Since 2011, Syria has been paralyzed by a gruesome civil war between the Assad regime, the Kurds, and rebel groups. The conflict has displaced more than 11 million (both internally and externally) as refugees, and killed nearly 500,000. In 2017 alone, the United Nations requested $8 billion in aid to put towards “the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.” As the fighting intensifies, it is Syrians themselves who feel its weight on their shoulders.
The Syrian Civil Defense (SCD) is at the forefront of the conflict. What started in 2012 as a makeshift series of rescue teams evolved into a more cohesive volunteer-based unit, now colloquially known as the “White Helmets.” The White Helmets come from all walks of life, from students and artisans, to doctors, engineers, and teachers. Their mission is simple: “To save the greatest number of lives in the shortest possible time and to minimize further injury to people and damage to property.” The group primarily deals with the aftermath of governmental airstrikes, but at its core, the SCD is wholly dedicated to providing nonpartisan aid to nearly seven million Syrians. In addition to operating as a first-response unit, the White Helmets’ work spans across a multitude of sectors in the public sphere including distributing information, rewiring electrical cables, and checking the safety of affected buildings. The volunteers’ pledges to the pillars of “Humanity, Solidarity, [and] Impartiality” aligns them with the courageous values of the group, with one another, and adheres them to the betterment of Syria herself in her darkest hour.
In 2016, the White Helmets were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and won the year’s Right Livelihood Award for their service to the international community. That same year, Netflix released its documentary “The White Helmets” featuring the group, produced by the Oscar-nominated team behind “Virunga.” While key players in the battle have continuously flirted with peace negotiations, fighting in its current state seems to be at best an inconsistent ceasefire. Yet organizations like the White Helmets keep hope alive for millions and epitomizes altruistic volunteering.
To learn more about the White Helmets, please check out these links: