On August 17, 2016, five year old Omran Daqneesh took the world by storm after he was pulled out alive from the ruins of his family’s home in Syria.
Images of Omran’s disheveled body and tearless face turned him into the “poster boy” for the tragedies Syrians have ceaselessly endured at the hands of President Bashar Al-Assad and his allies. In the days after his rescue, virtually every single large news organization around the globe reported on Omran’s story, and many cited it to justify the urgent need for humanitarian action in Syria.
But, less than two weeks later, the world has already forgotten about Omran, and discussions of humanitarian action in Syria have faded.
Only last week, I predicted this result in a post for Muftah, writing that Omran’s story would only “spark temporary global outrage at the Syrian war that results in little-to-no action or meaningful change.” I was not alone in making this assessment and read at least three other articles about Omran which reached similar conclusions. What this shows is that many of us are, at least, aware of how fickle and irresponsible we are toward Syria’s suffering.
Take, for example, the fact that just two days ago, on August 25, 2016, Assad’s forces dropped bombs on a residential area in the rebel-controlled city of Aleppo, killing eleven children. Unlike the hysteria that followed Omran’s story, news of these children’s deaths failed to reach many mainstream outlets.
But, not everyone has the luxury of selective indignation. In place of our own moral shortcomings, the Syria Civil Defense force—a grassroots humanitarian group whose members are popularly known as the “White Helmets”—have saved over 60,000 lives since the uprising began. They have also provided on-the-ground reporting about the tragic stories happening everyday in Syria, no matter who is listening.
Often spending days digging through rubble to pull out bodies, the White Helmets are not only a vital lifeline for Syrians, but also a critical source of information for those outside the country. Were it not for this group, we likely would have never heard about Omran at all (the White Helmets were the ones who rescued Omran and broke his story) or the eleven children who died in Aleppo on Thursday.
PBS News ran an eleven minute segment on the White Helmets on August 22, 2016, detailing the challenges these humanitarians endure as they rescue civilians from decimated buildings and homes. With only basic equipment like shovels at their disposal, the accomplishments and dedication of the White Helmets can only be described as incredible.
Unsurprisingly, The Washington Post describes the White Helmets’ activities as “among the most dangerous in the world.” Their work will only continue to become more arduous, as long as the international community fails to do more than simply throw its hands up in the air at the sight of an increasingly entrenched humanitarian catastrophe.
It is only a matter of time before the next Omran is trapped beneath the remains of a destroyed building, and, if the White Helmets are not there, then no one will be. For those who care about Syria, a few simple steps can help ensure the White Helmets remain fed, funded, and equipped. The most important of these steps is to donate to their cause and encourage others to do so as well. In the absence of such support, it is likely the White Helmets will be unable to continue their work.
To donate to the White Helmets, visit their website here.