Courtesy of Aleppo Media Center
The daily horror of the war in Syria defies imagination.
Susan Sontag, in her 2004 book “Regarding the Pain of Others,” wrote: “We, this we is everyone who has never experienced anything like what they went through. We don't understand. We don't get it. We truly can't imagine what it was like."
And so the drip-drip-drip of news items about incendiary bombs dropped on dense residential areas, airstrikes targeting schools and hospitals, and mortars falling haphazardly on places where people work and live can seem overwhelming.
Often, we just turn away.
Courtesy of Aleppo Media Center
The image of Omran, like that of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who drowned off the coast of Turkey last year, has fixed the world’s attention on the fate of the Syrian people. Which begs the questions: How can I help? What can I do?
There are ways you can help children like Omran.
Omran was treated by a doctor from the SAMS Foundation, which works with Syrian American health care professionals and operates 106 medical facilities throughout the country, including in eastern Aleppo.
The hospital were Omran was taken had been targeted by airstrikes in the past, and is now an underground facility.
“It is one of the major hospitals in eastern Aleppo City. Services we provide in that hospital are primary healthcare, trauma, ICU,” says Dr. Ahmed Tarakji, president of SAMS. “The only CT scanner was damaged in an attack. We are in the process of raising funds to repair or replace it.”
Last year, SAMS treated treated more than 30,000 Syrians in that hospital alone, according to the organization. They support five facilities in eastern Aleppo, including an OB-GYN clinic. There is just one female obstetrician-gynecologist left working in that part of the city, at that clinic.
You can support their efforts in Syria here.
Another organization that provides front-line medical treatment near Aleppo is Doctors Without Borders, also known as MSF for their acronym in French. They operate a 27-bed hospital run by Syrian staff in the Azaz district, 20 miles northwest of Aleppo, close to the Turkish border. Since 2014, they have also been providing drugs, medical supplies and equipment to 10 hospitals, six health centers and three first aid points in eastern Aleppo and the surrounding countryside, according to MSF’s senior press officer, Tim Shenk.
Shenk says that the the last shipment of 250 cubic meters of drugs and supplies (equivalent to about 10 truckloads) was sent to Aleppo in April and contained enough supplies to last for three months. The next shipment was supposed to be sent at the end of last month, but it could not reach the east of the city due to the siege imposed by the Syrian army and its allies. While a rebel offensive technically broke the siege on August 6, it is not clear how reliably and safely aid can be brought in there, he says.
“People are struggling to survive under heavy airstrikes that continue to hit populated areas and civilian structures. Hospitals are no exception,” Shenk wrote in an email. “At least four hospitals that MSF has provided with much-needed medical materials were damaged in recent weeks and are struggling to become fully functional again.”
MSF’s efforts in Syria and Aleppo can be supported here.
While Omran is from rebel-controlled eastern Aleppo, civilians in regime-controlled western Aleppo are also often caught in the middle of the conflict, with rebel shells and mortar fire a constant hazard in some neighborhoods.
“We also have concerns for the situation in the western parts of the city, which could be cut off from supplies and where thousands of people have reportedly been displaced because of the fighting,” Shenk says.
This is where Questscope operates. Dr. Curt Rhodes, Questscope’s international director, says their focus is on providing "second line" support for victims of fighting, mostly centered on providing immediate trauma support and psychosocial counseling. Victims are also provided with non-food-items such as blankets and clothes, pots and pans — thing things needed to restart life. The group helps roughly 30,000 in Western Aleppo, according to Rhodes.
Questscope has 300 staff members and roughly 1,500 actively-serving volunteers nationwide, with roughly a third of them in the Aleppo area. They support as many as 600,000 internally displaced people throughout the country, Rhodes says, including by providing counseling and education to children. We profiled the head of their Syrian operation, Roy Moussalli last year, and they accept donations online here.
Save the Children has been active in Syria since the conflict began. They are one of the few international nonprofit organizations to have a presence in eastern Aleppo.
Through their Syrian partners, they operated 12 schools in that part of the city, but had to shut them down recently due to fear of being tagged by airstrikes.
“We’re tying to find other ways children can still be educated, whether that’s through the home or in other parts of Syria. We have actually identified underground locations where we are able to teach children. So we’re trying to be creative under these circumstances,” says Sonia Khush, head of Save the Children in Syria.
They run mobile health teams on the outskirts of Aleppo that treat civilians who manage to flee the city, and also support seven clinics in the nearby city of Ilbi, which has seen heavy airstrikes in recent weeks. They have new partnerships with local clinics and are working to help them restock on supplies, according to Khush.
Despite the dire humanitarian situation, she says Save the Children continues to prioritize the education of children whenever possible.
“One of the most important things we can do is ensure that children have some sense of routine and normalcy and some sense of a normal childhood in the midst of a war zone, and the number one way we can do that is to get them into school and provide an education. We don’t want to have a lost generation of children coming out of this war.”
This story focuses on children and Aleppo. Here is a list of organizations that are helping Syrian refugees around the world.
Omran was rescued from the rubble of his home by men with the Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets. They are about 3,000 volunteers who operate as first responders in rebel-held areas across the country.
They accept donations, which go toward lifesaving equipment like defibrillators and medical treatment for volunteers injured in action. At least 134 so-called White Helmets have been killed in action since the war began, according to Al Jazeera. One of them, Khaled Omar Harah, was the public face of the volunteer civilian rescue force. He died in an airstrike in Aleppo earlier this month.
Abdulrahman Hassan, a spokesperson for the group, says that while they “did their duty” to save Omran and have visited the family since, they felt frustrated that the world only seems to care about the people they rescue when there is an emotional photo or video to go along with it.
“It’s hard for us. It’s confusing for us … They don’t do anything when there is another photo of women or children killed by barrel bombs,” he says. “This is not a fair comparison for us, because all Syrian people are equal for us. All the children are equal.”
More about the White Helmets: "When they bomb a place, they wait for us to get there, and they bomb again."