By Ahmad Imam, Humanitarian Team at Save the Children
Earlier this week I woke up to reports of the latest atrocity to hit families in Douma – a suspected chemical attack. Horrific, yet not unfamiliar images emerged of whole families lifeless in each other’s arms, and children pale and choking in dark basements.
The attack came whilst many people were waiting to be evacuated, hoping in vain to be taken to safety. Others suffocated whilst they were sheltering underground, trying to escape the worst of the bombing – this ultimately made them more vulnerable to the attack.
Close to home
I grew up in Damascus, just 15 minutes from Eastern Ghouta. With every image I see and every story I hear, something dies inside me. I see families clinging to each other in their last moments, and they look like my own family – and it so easily could have been.
I’m haunted by visions of their last few minutes alive. I wonder whether they had time to say any tender last words to each other, to comfort their children.
And I’m overwhelmed by grief when I think of them struggling to survive the brutality and hardship of the last five years – only to die underground in the darkness, as gas filled their chests and pushed the life out.
Forty hours of hell
After five years of siege and seven years of war, there weren’t enough medical supplies and doctors to help the victims of this latest suspected chemical attack.
I spoke to one student doctor, Mohamad, who said he was the only doctor left to run the Emergency Room in a hospital in Douma. He described the aftermath of the attack as “forty hours of hell,” and struggled to find words to describe what he saw.
“Survivors stared blankly in horror with wide eyes and pale faces,” he told me
“Lifeless bodies of children were strewn across the floor, with fear and death on their faces. There wasn’t anything we could do for most of them – I held their hands and tried to bring them comfort in their last few minutes.”
“Death stood shoulder to shoulder with us on that day. We lost more patients than we were able to save.”
A catalogue of atrocities
This latest attack couldn’t have happened to a more beleaguered community.
People in Eastern Ghouta became captives in their own land long ago and have suffered through a catalogue of atrocities and deprivation, during the slow strangulation of the siege enforced by the Syrian government forces.
Hunger, loss, and degradation have become hallmarks of their lives.
Children’s first days at school were spent in basements, and they lost arms and legs before they even learnt to walk. And as time passes, their mental and physical wounds grow deeper and wider – so many children are almost beyond healing already.
Reason for hope
Recently, I’ve struggled to find hope when my people and my country have lost so much. But then I think of the local aid-workers, doctors, and teachers who refuse to give up on their communities.
People like Mohamad, who runs towards explosions, instead of away – so he can help just one more person. Mohamad had the chance to leave Douma but stayed behind to work in the hospital.
He gives me hope.
People who work for Save the Children’s partners who have been on the ground in Eastern Ghouta throughout the long years of siege. They’ve been planting community gardens amid the rubble, running schools and women’s centres, and providing cash grants to the most vulnerable.
And when the conflict intensified, these heroes went out in the streets as bombs fell from the sky to distribute essential items and thousands of hot meals to families in basements.
They give me hope.
How you can help
Now we must try to give hope back to Syrian children and relieve their suffering.
Following months of intense fighting, displaced families and those who choose to remain in their homes need urgent humanitarian aid. Please donate to our Syria Crisis Appeal to help children who have had their lives torn apart by war.
International investigators must be allowed to enter Douma to investigate the alleged chemical attack, and there must be an immediate nationwide ceasefire to save children’s lives.
We cannot continue to allow the slaughter of children in Syria to continue with impunity. Please help if you can.