In my research and discussions with organisations concerned with humanitarian relief in Syria one name kept coming to the fore and that was Hand in Hand for Syria. If this charity was being mentioned by ShelterBox and praised by Aquabox then it was worth talking to them to find out about the operation and the work they do. It was
an eye opener.
Hand in Hand for Syria was set up on a temporary basis to get aid into various cities in Syria as the conflict erupted during February 2011. The founders thought the crisis would be over in a few months and the aid required would be small and they could leave the region once the crisis was ended. In February 2012 they started shipping in aid from Turkey in bulk and registered the charity. Their approach was slightly different from the main agencies in the region.
They set up offices in Turkey close to the Syrian border, employed Syrians to work with them and steadily built up teams working from Nottingham to Turkey and then into Syria.I was fortunate enough to catch up with one of the founders on a visit to the UK from Turkey. Fadi Al-Dairi, the operations director was asked by Faddy Sahloul to join him in starting the organisation. We discussed what was originally viewed as a short conflict but five years later is still raging. As Fadi said, “We started our work in April/May 2011 and thought there was no point in setting up a charity – it would be a waste of time as we can walk away very soon when the work is done but five years later we are still working.”
Fadi gave me an overview of their work in Syria and it is impressive: “We have two offices in Turkey and are looking at a third office in Jordan, Amman. All our operations focus on people inside Syria – we don’t want them to leave their homes, we encourage them to stay. If somebody stays at home our duty is to support them by eliminating the need for them to go seeking help in neighbouring countries or even in Europe. We feel there is a need for support in Syria before they go seeking it outside.” I pointed out that it seemed to be a big objective as people are leaving because of the situation, and this is where Fadi’s motivation and passion kicked in.
“People are leaving because of the security situation and that is the main part but if you give people security and safety trust me no one will leave. However, with organisations like Hand in Hand talking about it we can put the pressure on, political pressure. I don’t mean getting into politics, but by highlighting the challenges people are faced with I’m sure we can keep it in the news, because most of the time no one is talking about the chlorine and phosphoric attacks done by the Russians under the name of fighting terrorism,” Fadi told me.
I did not want to get into a blame game and I got the impression neither did Fadi so we moved the discussion on to talk in depth about their operations in Syria. I was really interested in what was happening at the time in Aleppo but Fadi went wider than that.
Fadi told me, “We have between 300 and 350 people working for us in Syria depending on the contract. There are around 200 people working in medical teams and the other 100 to 150 work in food and water and sanitation. We have four hospitals and are establishing another and we run them from A to Z.”
What measures can we take to avoid IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices), car bombs and shelling from the air? I can lose and replace facilities but highly trained personnel cannot be replaced easily.”
I understood in my research that the organisation had built two hospitals and were about to build another and asked Fadi about this. “We wanted to develop the present facilities but could not go up or sideways but managed to obtain funding for a new hospital of 3 storeys which will be completed in January 2017. This is responding to a need and is as close to the border with Turkey as we could get. We always talk about quality of staff so we take safety and security into account before quality of care. What measures can we take to avoid IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices), car bombs and shelling from the air? I can lose and replace facilities but highly trained personnel cannot be replaced easily,” he said.
I admitted to Fadi that these developments and criteria were a new perspective to me since all I had heard about Syria was destruction and people’s lives being lost or changed dramatically. I wanted to find out as much as I could about their work so I asked about partner organisations.
He told me, “We work with MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) who take in medical supplies and immunise the children, World Vision, UNICEF indirectly, World Water Works, School in a Bag and ShelterBox as well as Aquabox,” Fadi mentioned, “ShelterBox gives us the flexibility in an emergency. Sometimes it is quicker for my team to contact ShelterBox than myself and we are able to respond with tents very quickly and tents are scarce in Syria so we have been able to supply more than UNHCR.”
I did speak with Aquabox who told me they have supplied over 1,000 boxes to Syria through Hand in Hand with Syria.
“We do a needs assessment on the aid we get from ShelterBox and Aquabox and can go back to them and tell them that certain items are very useful but others not so much. We can ask them to tailor the aid to the requirement. They spend a lot of time listening to us finding out what we need,” Fadi explained.
I always ask the question, ‘how more can Rotary help you?’ Fadi replied, “First we want people to make a noise to keep the Syria conflict in the news since the more noise we can make the higher the political pressure becomes. Secondly, we need support for medical facilities; people can survive days without food but medical supplies are a necessity as well as trauma facilities. It is the women and children who need to be treated. Some people say ‘how do we know who is targeting these?’ but it does not matter. We need to reach besieged areas as well.”
The interview came to an end with Fadi Al-Dairi telling me they are trying their best and in a very difficult situation. From his depth of knowledge his motivation coming across and his passion and enthusiasm they really are. It was a wake up call to me and a privilege to speak with him.