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French Syrians send medical aid to Syrian hospitals

Dr Chadi Homedan, president of AAVS, prepares medical equipment to be shipped … Kalvin Ng

The conflict in Syria has now been going on for more than two years, and for Syrians abroad, it has been difficult watching the deadly events unfold in their homeland. A group of Syrian doctors in France has set up a charity to send medical aid to hospitals struggling to cope with the influx of patients.

Chadi Homedan is a doctor who grew up and worked in Syria.

He now lives in the western French city of Angers, thousands of kilometres from the daily violence in Syria.

But the conflict is never far from his mind.

Click to enlarge
Kalvin Ng

"Our job as doctors is always to help, to treat. When there is suffering of such magnitude, like the suffering of the Syrian people, with, according to the United Nations, around 70,000 people dead in Syria, and many more wounded, we can’t be indifferent to this suffering," he said.

So in April 2011, a month after the Syrian uprising began, he and a group of Syrian doctors in France founded the Association for Aid of Victims in Syria (AAVS), to send medical aid to Syria.

“There’s no question that it [the conflict] touches us personally. It’s our country that’s being lost, if you will. But we, we’re not fighters, we’re not politicians. We are doctors at heart, and we try to focus our efforts to sending medical aid,” he explained.

In January, the group sent its first convoy of medical supplies.

They loaded up four ambulances and a van – all donated – and drove through the snow all the way to the Turkey-Syria border some 5,500 kilometres away. The precious cargo and the ambulances were then handed over to the association’s partners in Syria.

The group is now planning to send a second convoy of supplies in June.

AAVS has around 100 members and volunteers, with Dr Homedan as the president. His garage at home serves as one of several makeshift depots across France, filled with medical supplies donated by hospitals and clinics from all over the country.

Donors supply everything from medicines, needles and first-aid equipment to radiography machines.

In the garage, there are also large piles of crutches, walking aids and wheelchairs, which are desperately needed in Syria.

"We always talk about the people who have been killed, but let’s not forget about those who have been wounded,” Homedan explained. “In military medicine, we say that five people are injured for every person killed. And you can imagine that some of them have very serious injuries: amputations, shrapnel wounds…so these materials, these wheelchairs help the patient to be able to move around," he said.

The first convoy cost around 10,000 euros.

Mamoun Dib, a doctor and another association member, said the group can only send the supplies to northern parts of Syria, such as the cities of Aleppo, Idlib and surrounding villages for safety reasons.

"The doctors there, they treat everyone, regardless of their political opinions. We mostly go to areas that have been ‘liberated’, so to speak. We can’t go outside of these areas because it’s very hard to penetrate the regions that are still under the control of the government. So we go where we can go. We can never be 100 percent sure, but we are almost 100 percent sure that the medical aid is going to the people who need it," he said.

Click to enlarge
Kalvin Ng

The association's members include Syrians and non-Syrians.

Mamoun Dib's wife, Rima Dib, is another member and is originally from the Syrian capital, Damascus.

She said it hurts her to see her hometown ravaged by violence.

"Sometimes I have to pinch myself because it’s really surreal. It saddens me terribly. If I read the news on the internet before going to work, for example, then I know for sure that my day is going to be terrible,” she explained.

“Also, as a psychiatrist, I worry about people’s mental health, in particular post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a catastrophic thing to deal with, especially for little children," she added.

The group hopes to send medical supplies every two months.

But for Mamoun Dib, it would be even better if they didn't have to send anything at all.

"This conflict has now gone on for just over two years. It's time the international community put in a more serious effort to end this conflict," he said.

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