By: Pamela Riley, Country Representative for the Canadian Red Cross in Syria

The people of Eastern Ghouta have had to endure weeks, months and even years of fighting.

I had the opportunity to visit two of the camps that are now hosting thousands of people who are not only hungry and in many cases sick, but also tired. Tired of living in conflict. Tired of not being able to live a normal life.

Dweir camp is only two kilometres from the front line and while we were there, we could hear mortars exploding continuously. The sound, which seems loud from Damascus, is almost deafening here. It is hard not to cringe when a mortar explodes.
Pamela Riley, Country Representative for the Canadian Red Cross in Syria, visits two camps
Pamela Riley, Country Representative for the Canadian Red Cross in Syria, visits two camps now hosting thousands of people.
People in the camp pitched in to help and it was built and patients were being seen within 24 hours
According to the Director of Health for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, they thought it would take days to set up the clinic; but, the people in the camp pitched in to help and patients were being seen within 24 hours.
There are close to 1,000 volunteers working throughout six camps
There are over 200 Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers working in this camp and close to 1,000 throughout the six camps.
Chaotic and tired of the conflict
This camp is chaotic due to the sheer number of residents, more than 10,000 on the day that we visit, which again can fluctuate. The people I speak to express how tired they are of the conflict, said Pamela.
The Red Crescent means ‘safe haven’
The Red Crescent means ‘safe haven’ to these people, who have had endure unfathomable hardship these last seven years, explained Pamela.
I also feel heartened by the commitment of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers
I feel sorry, sorry that Syrians have had to endure so much, but I also feel heartened by the commitment of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers, said Pamela.
Pamela Riley, pictured here with members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent
Pamela Riley, pictured here with members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent

There are approximately 7,000 people in this camp on the day that I visit, but this number fluctuates. The site is a former Scouts camp so there are accommodation blocks already, but nowhere near the capacity needed to support the influx, with more people arriving daily. Volunteers are busy building additional wooden rooms, mostly for families.

On the football pitch is a makeshift holding area for the people who have arrived yesterday and are awaiting registration. There are hundreds of people here. Today it is particularly hot, so the sun is beating down, and there is limited shade in the camp. Everyone wants to chat with us, mostly asking how long they will have to stay in the camp. When I ask if they feel safer in the camp, they all nod without hesitation, praising the Syrian Arab Red Crescent for doing its best to provide support.

There is health care available here. According to Dr. Jarrah, the Director of Health for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, they thought it would take some days to set up the clinic. However, the people in the camp pitched in to help and it was built and patients were being seen within 24 hours. The first day there were 600 consultations.

“We’re doing everything we can to support the people”, says Dr. Jarrah.

There are more than 200 Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers working in this camp and close to one thousand throughout the six camps. I meet two young men who both joined as volunteers around the same time, six months ago. One is studying to be a doctor, or hopes to finish his studies if he is able, and the other was studying to be a dentist. Despite the long hours, they’re both very patient and kind when dealing with the residents. This is true of all the volunteers I meet.

Adra, the second camp we visit, is about 20 kilometres from Damascus and five kilometres from the fighting.

This camp is chaotic due to the sheer number of residents, more than 10,000 on the day that we visit, which again can fluctuate. The people I speak to express how tired they are of the conflict, of not being able to live a normal life. How they were forced to live in terrible conditions underground, crammed together in small basements with little food and water and lacking sanitation. Many needed urgent medical care but no one wanted to take the risk of going above ground to seek out treatment because of the intense fighting.

It is clear to me that people view the Syrian Arab Red Crescent as a beacon of hope and help. The Red Crescent means ‘safe haven’ to these people, who have had endure unfathomable hardship these last seven years.

Visiting the camps confronts me with the harsh reality of war. This is what lives torn apart look like. I feel sorry, sorry that Syrians have had to endure so much, but I also feel heartened by the commitment of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteers. The way they patiently listen to people, answer their questions, and offer support and compassion.  As long as there are still people willing to help others in need, there will always be hope for a better future.