by Vivian Tou’meh
Yaser Assaf, 23, a Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) volunteer and an Arabic literature graduate, describes how he never believed in neutrality prior to joining the Red Crescent and how his experience made him neutral.
“I was only 16 years old when I joined SARC in 2007. In 2011, I completed a first aid principles course and an advanced first aid course.
“Problems started in Deir Ezzor in April 2011, the situation was really difficult during that period, and there was an urgent need for first aiders. I worked for the Deir Ezzor branch in al-Joura, al-Qusur and al-Dahia neighborhoods of Deir Ezzor, which are quiet areas.
“Today, I feel that I am a professional first aider, as during the last two years I have gained a lot of experience.
“I enjoy this work despite the numerous challenges. For example, two months ago I was kidnapped with my colleagues by an anonymous group, while we were in a first aid mission to al-Sheikh Yaseen neighbourhood. We started telling them about SARC and explaining about our role and our principles, and how our work is neutral and impartial. They released us.
“Many people were injured in October and November of last year due to the shelling in al-Joura and al-Qusur neighborhoods in Deir Ezzor. We were forced to transfer 30 cases to Damascus because of the lack of medical facilities in Deir Ezzor. Many of the patients were children.
“In the past, I had my own position regarding what is happening in my country, but I learned working with the SARC that I have to be neutral in this, otherwise I cannot do my work.
“At the moment my main concern, as a volunteer, is to build relations between SARC and the people we help and not relations for myself. Volunteers must work for the name of SARC not for their own benefit.
“We have to build a solid foundation so that we enable the new volunteers to work right in the future and humanitarian work of Red Crescent can continue.
“Before the crisis I didn’t realise the importance of the neutrality principle and, of course, I had a strong opinion towards what is happening in my country. Now everything has been changed for me.
“I realized that it is really difficult to do our work without the commitment to the neutrality principle.
“Of course we have worries during our missions. Last time, I went with colleagues to the hot areas of Deir Ezzor – which had been besieged for months. We used the boat and crossed the Euphrates River to deliver vaccines for children with polio. In the beginning we were afraid, then we were relieved to find people there who understood that our mission was to help.