In Syria, a country bursting with too many violent men dressed in black, the volunteers of the Syrian Civil Defence want to offer an alternative. The group of 2,600 men and women, drawn from all walks of life, wear distinctive white helmets.
With a fire service, a civilian police force a distant memory of peacetime it is only the White Helmets who are able to offer emergency rescue services to the beleaguered civilians of Syria.
The story of the White Helmets mirrors the escalation of violence of the revolution. In late 2012, the Syrian regime withdrew its forces across Syria. The absence of government forces essentially turned these into “free-fire” zones. The al-Assad regime could now bomb and shell these areas indiscriminately with thousands of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire and no help in sight.
Over time, it was ordinary Syrians who started to respond to the explosions – rescuing those trapped by rubble, fighting the raging fires which threatened to engulf entire neighbourhoods. Most had bought helmets that were white, instead of coloured, simply because they were cheaper. It was the birth of a humanitarian organization that three years later has saved 18,000 lives, and recently been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
CNN’s Dr Sanjay Gupta and his crew recently travelled to Southern Turkey with the Syrian Civil Defence, who were undertaking a sophisticated training exercise.
He was able see first-hand the kind of techniques used by the White Helmets in their rescue operations, and speak to some of the volunteers about their own experiences of saving lives on the front line of the world’s bloodiest civil war.
The above is an exclusive episode of CNN Middle East shared as part of a partnership between B-Change and CNN.
Featured image courtesy of https://climbingforsyria.files.wordpress.com/