Guest blog: "Syria's children are dying. Please - don't look away"
Tonight, BBC Panorama will air 'Saving Syria's Children'; which focuses on the work of Hand In Hand for Syria. The charity's volunteer staff give desperately-needed medical care to the Syrian people; here, journalist and blogger Louise Tickle explains - with a frankness which some MNers may find distressing - why she feels compelled to support their work.
Posted on: Mon 30-Sep-13 13:01:47
(5 comments )
How can a normal person possibly respond to pictures of schoolchildren arriving at a field hospital with massive body burns, shivering, in shock, in unbearable pain...? The BBC report last month that showed the victims of an incendiary bomb attack near Aleppo made me freeze in horror, in much the same way as the Youtube footage of the Houla massacre of families including small children and babies that happened last June. Since the BBC's first report, the world has been debating what, if anything, should be done about Syria's chemical weapons. In the meantime, the atrocities continue.
I’m a journalist who covers education, social affairs and international development issues, but I’m also the mum of two little boys, aged five and two. The Syrian civil war has affected me like no other conflict, and I know that’s because suddenly, with small children of my own now, there is a raw understanding of the preciousness of life, and the effort, love and selflessness invested in growing, giving birth to and then nurturing our babies so they have the chance to become the best people they can be.
Tens of thousands of Syrian children will never have that chance. In the 14 months since the Houla massacre, I’ve purposely looked at the pictures of tiny, dead children in white cotton shrouds, and, far worse, footage of terribly injured children dying. A child taking their last, painful breaths, who just a few minutes before was laughing, playing, or peacefully sleeping is the most horrendous thing to watch.
Their agony, and that of their parents, is something that we in the UK mostly never see, and I think that’s wrong. I choose to look, occasionally, at this kind of footage compiled by citizen journalists in Syria, out of respect for the suffering of people who have no control over the destruction wreaked upon them - an unfashionable view in this country, where our news media shields us from the disgusting obscenity of human bodies, torn apart by shells fired indiscriminately into civilian areas.
The Syrian civil war has affected me like no other conflict... with small children of my own now, there is a raw understanding of the preciousness of life, and the effort, love and selflessness invested in growing, giving birth to and then nurturing our babies.
But there is no point in looking and in knowing if you don’t do something. And that ‘something’ can be hard to work out. The politics is beyond me - it appears to be beyond everyone. And that means that humanitarian and medical aid is essential to support those who are trying to survive through this conflict, if there is to be a Syria, and a Syrian people, when the violence finally ceases.
A group of business people and NHS doctors of Syrian descent who work all over the UK now run a charity called Hand in Hand for Syria. It’s currently one of the only organisations able to get medical aid and expertise deep inside the country, to the ‘hot’ zones where the conflict rages the worst and where people need them most. These are the obstetricians, anaesthetists, paediatricians and orthopaedic consultants who treat you and me when we need their care - and they are volunteering their time, and their lives, right now, to bring medical help to families for whom it is literally a matter of life and death.
Imagine you’re pregnant, but you’ve fled your village on foot because it’s not safe. You’re living in an ‘internally displaced people’ camp - squalid, overcrowded, insanitary - desperately trying to get over the border to Turkey, but nobody will let you through. You go into labour early, there are complications, the baby won’t come - and there is no medical help at all. This is how people die in wartime. They’re the unseen, unknown deaths. They’re not counted. And they happen all the time.
This was the situation in the Atmeh area of Syria, near the Turkish border, until earlier this year when Hand in Hand for Syria funded and staffed the only paediatric children’s hospital in the whole northwest region. It’s not big or fancy; it’s set up in what used to be an ordinary house. But there are 20 beds for ill children who need specialist care, and more recently they have added a 18-bedded women's unit and a small operating theatre with qualified obstetricians who can deal with complex deliveries and emergency Caesarians. They also have ten incubators for premature or ill babies.
I fundraise for this charity because they provide, in a highly practical way, the targeted help that people need to survive, and because they can do it inside Syria where nobody else can. They take enormous risks: volunteer doctors and other medical staff working with Hand in Hand have been killed as a result of shelling. And their colleagues still go back. A volunteer anaesthetist, Dr Rola, was at a Hand in Hand for Syria hospital near Aleppo last month when the victims of the incendiary bomb started coming in, and she spent days and nights treating them. She appeared on Newsnight the very day she flew back, and spoke of the way the hospital got hotter and hotter as more injured children arrived, radiating heat from their burns. Many of those children died, including one who was just six years old. The hospital took so in so many that it ran out of burns dressings, cannulas for giving intravenous fluids, antibiotics to stop infection setting in. But there were children who were treated and survived who otherwise would certainly have died. And while politicians fight it out in a revolting global power play, supporting this charity is the only thing I feel I can do that will make any practical difference to people who are suffering in ways that nobody ever should.
Find out more about Hand in Hand for Syria here.
By Louise Tickle
You raise such an interesting and important point. How to get through to people about horrific events, when the footage that is proof that the events are happening is too horrific for many to even look at - even those who are constitutionally more inclined than others to act in response to global injustice or atrocities?
I know that since having children, I find it very hard to watch anything - even the most airbrushed, 'directed' slo-mo sad-song charity promo - that involves me thinking about the reality of children being hurt (emotionally or physically) - and worse, dying.
I don't know what the solution is. But like you I've donated to Hand In Hand for Syria - these are people who are risking their own lives to actually do something about the thing that I can't even bear to think about. I couldn't have more admiration for them, tbh. As you say, while the world debates the appropriate response, for the Syrians the horror grinds on.
Thanks for sharing. I have donated through my company scheme to Save the Children - the company matches employee donations up to a maximum limit.
Does your charity work together with Save the Children in Syria?
Don't know what happened to my post?
I have found the Syria footage so distressing - how could anyone not?
I donated through my company scheme to Save the Children in Syria - my company matches employee donations up to a maximum limit. Does Hand in Hand for Syria work with Save the Children?
Reading your article alone made me cry. Thank you for bringing my attention to this charity. I have been avoiding watching or reading about Syria because it fills me with so much impotent rage. I cant understand how people can ignore the plight of so many Syrian children who are suffering real horrors that would be traumatic and life altering/destroying for us as adults let alone children and who are desperate for someone to help them. Yet we find manufactured, incendiary threads on mumsnet about children fasting or wearing headscarves or arguments about circumcision getting so many responses. I dont mean to hijack or derail your thread because it has really helped me to get off my backside and make a donation where I have hesitated before wondering whether it would really make a difference. But it just makes you wonder really why a cause as tragic and desperate as this one gets so little attention.
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