White Helmets visit Montreal to discuss harrowing work in Syria
Published Friday, December 9, 2016 10:01PM EST
Amid Syria’s brutal civil war, a team of brave volunteers are risking their lives to provide life-saving emergency aid to those living through the chaos.
The White Helmets, also known as the Syrian Civil Defence, are a group of nearly 3,000 unarmed volunteers who work daily to rescue those injured in the country’s ongoing bombings. Since it formed in 2013, the group estimates it has saved more than 73,530 lives.
Members of the group visited Concordia University in Montreal Thursday to discuss their harrowing but important work. The event coincided with a screening of the 40-minute Netflix documentary “The White Helmets,” directed by Oscar-nominated director Orlando von Einsiedel.
Farouq Habib, one of the group’s leaders, was a banker before he began volunteering.
“I feel on a personal level, I’m a better person now,” Habib told CTV News.
The group was expected to remain in Canada for several days for more screenings, but returned to Syria early to resume their work.
“To me it’s the genuine, genuine definition of heroism,” said James LeMesurier, another member of the group.
The work is undeniably dangerous. The White Helmets have run into active bombing zones and sniper fire to rescue injured civilians. To date, 154 volunteers have been killed in the line of duty, and they say that four of their warehouses have been hit by bombs.
The reason the White Helmets continue to risk their lives, they say, is dedication. The group is comprised of everyday men and women, including bakers, pharmacists and shopkeepers, who underwent first-aid and emergency training to be able to help out in the hardest hit areas of Syria. All volunteers take a pledge to three core principles: humanity, solidarity and impartiality.
“They go by a motto of, ‘To save one life is to save humanity.’ And I think that that is true,” said Lindsay Gladding, a senior program manager with World Vision Canada.
But the group is not without controversy. The White Helmets have been criticized for receiving financial backing from western governments and faced accusations that some members have faked rescue videos. In some cases, the group has even been accused of aligning with terrorists.
Habib says the White Helmets are clear about who they consider the enemy.
“Anyone who targets civilians in Syria, for us, is a criminal,” he said.
As the war rages on, the group says that there are many lives they are simply incapable of saving. For that reason, they say that Syrian refugees, including those in Canada, will be critical in efforts to one day rebuild the country’s future.
With a report from CTV’s Genevieve Beauchemin