The four-year anniversary of the devastating civil war in Syria recently passed on March 15th, 2015. News sources have been circulating tragic stories of the immense suffering that the conflict has caused, the daily fatal bombing and shelling campaigns, and the spread of extremist militant groups. While the world absolutely needs to be informed on this terror, it also needs to hear about the brave figures that are doing everything in their power to stop the madness.
Amidst what seems like endless despair, local civilians in Syria stand tall and strong, bringing hope to a grim situation. Thousands of courageous people are going unnoticed as they selflessly save lives, provide needed services, promote human rights, and fight to get their country back. These people are true heroes who deserve recognition for their actions.
Here are some of the groups that are making a difference in Syria:
Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)
Civil society groups began forming in Syria in 2011 to bring a voice to those who had been silenced for too long; to help the country gain freedom and rule of law based on the consent of the people. The Assad Regime responded to their actions with a brutal crackdown against the movements by imprisoning and torturing activists, and hitting communities with storms of mortars to silence the peaceful demands. While this led to the civil war the country is witnessing today, many of the CSOs are still functioning despite the utter chaos. A few of the main focuses of CSOs are on providing medical support, education, documenting human rights violations, and raising awareness on how to seek shelter during an attack.
“The White Helmets,” also known as Syrian Civil Defense, is a prime example of a CSO making a difference in Syria. This group of unpaid, unarmed volunteers rush to the site of bombings in Syria to claw out survivors from the rubble. The White Helmets formed in 2013, and in this short amount of time, the group has saved more than 12,500 lives. There are more than 2,200 volunteers – most are men, but a growing number of women are getting involved as well. More than 80 individuals have been killed while volunteering, largely because Syrian military aircraft often return for a “double-tap” and drop bombs on the rescuers.
The White Helmets’ campaign to pressure President Assad to stop dropping barrel bombs and argue that the West is so focused on ISIS, that it is ignoring the far greater killings by Assad.
Local councils in Syria are volunteer-based governing bodies that provide basic services, deliver relief items, and rebuild destroyed infrastructure. They are organized by city, town, sometimes neighborhood, and province and try to adhere to a democratic election process. Without these local councils, many Syrian communities would be completely devoid of basic needs like food and water, roads would be blocked with rubble, and infrastructure would remain in shambles.
The Failure of the International Community
From peace talks in Russia to the UN-proposed ceasefire in Aleppo, the international community has failed Syria time and time again. It is time to consider alternative measures that should include empowering and supporting these local heroes. The media should be sure to feature stories on civil society actors inside Syria and the differences they make so that these groups can get more support and continue their good work.