How a Simple, Audacious Vision Makes Life-Saving Impact

Once renowned for its plump olives and sweet cherries, Idlib, Syria is now best known for war. The scars show. Parts of rural Idlib lack electricity and running water, for the public network, which supplies both, has been destroyed by conflict. These rural communities also suffer from a dearth of health care. There aren’t any doctors, hospitals, or pharmacies nearby.              

Impoverished by over a decade of war, people in Idlib can’t afford to travel long distances for a checkup. Instead, they do what we all do when resources are tight. They address the most urgent need, which is often food. 97% of people living in the region are in extreme poverty and 80% need continued food aid. They let small health problems go untreated until they become life-threatening, or even worse, too late to treat.

You saw this need and responded. 

In the beginning of 2022, you made the bold idea of a hospitainer–a container truck turned into a hospital with doctors, nurses, pediatricians, and a pharmacy– a reality. But there was more need. You listened and responded, and now a mobile medical clinic travels through 23 villages so 120,000 people can see a doctor, get prescriptions filled, and receive care. There are no other aid organizations serving these vulnerable communities, which grow in number every day as new families return to Syria and seek safety in them. Currently, more than 800 families are returning weekly.

When moms, dads, and kids come to the hospitainer, which serves over 100 people per day, they have to wait for hours. The conditions in Syria are inhospitable; the summer sun scorches while winter brings cold rain. We added a roof which extends beyond the hospitainer to shade the waiting area and protect waiting patients from the weather because seeing a doctor is worrisome enough. Then, we had a vision. Instead of seeing the waiting time as a nuisance, we saw it as an opportunity. 

The demand for our medical services is extremely high, which leads to time spent waiting to see the doctor. We’re making this time valuable by offering health education to waiting patients, on topics affecting their daily lives. Photo by Omar Sanidiki.

Waiting people are a captive audience. Why not make use of that waiting time in a transformative way? We hired a health awareness worker to give informational sessions to waiting patients on the importance of early detection of diseases, nutrition, general healthcare, and family planning. Our bold goal for these sessions is to change the story on health outcomes for Syrians by decreasing child mortality, improving maternal and family healthcare, and combating malaria, cholera, and other diseases. 

Our sessions are determined by the community’s needs. Cholera is on the rise as vulnerable people are forced to drink the water they buy from public trucks, which is suitable only for cooking, cleaning, or bathing. In response, we are providing information on sanitation, how to keep clothes and households clean, and the importance of handwashing. So far, we’ve covered additional topics such as malnutrition, breast cancer, prostate cancer, asthma, and diabetes. 

We are the only humanitarian aid organization offering medical help to people in this area. Without our hospitainer or mobile medical clinic, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children would not be able to see a doctor.

Syrians are changing their own stories through these health awareness sessions. The information they receive on the importance of early disease detection helps them take better care of their families. Women who come to the clinic every two weeks for checkups are sharing what they learn with their neighbors who can’t get to the hospitainer, which further expands our reach. 

But we’re covering just a fraction of the need. Mothers in other neighborhoods still need pre and post-natal care to ensure new lives will thrive. Children are still fighting the ill effects of malnutrition, and the elderly are still vulnerable to disease or injury. Together we can change this story of war into a legend of rebirth.

It seems that much of the world doesn’t realize that the decade-long war in Syria isn’t over. In Idlib, war is still the dominant narrative. Photo by Omar Sanidiki.