SYRIAWISE interviewed chairman of Syria Civil Defence, popularly known as the White Helmets, Mr. Raed al-Saleh to talk about this institution of service to the most vulnerable human beings, not only in Syria but in other parts of the world.
Q: Why have Bashar Assad and the regime’s media spent so much time and effort creating propaganda about the White Helmets? Are they afraid of you? If so, why?
A: Actually, the regime’s propaganda predated The White Helmets when they tried to convince the world that the popular people’s uprising against their corrupt regime was actually a civil war that erupted due to sectarian conflicts in an attempt to justify their use of military force against civilians. Since the regime decided early on to collectively punish the population by withdrawing public services from within the areas where the peaceful, non-violent movement was active, Syrians were put in the position of having to help each other when the regime’s violence escalated and the bombing of their neighborhoods began. This is how The Syrian Civil Defence (now known as the White Helmets) was born. Contrary to the regime’s propaganda that claimed Syrians were engaged in a sectarian war, the White Helmets, with their members that represent all sects of Syrians, their volunteers from all economic backgrounds and professions, with their head-mounted cameras that record everything happening on the ground, were able to build an institution that represents Syrians from all segments of society, united by the humanitarian work they do and their common national identity. The White Helmets have turned into a real institution with standards equivalent to humanitarian institutions at the global level. A unified group that considers itself a national umbrella for all Syrians. That is why the regime has tried so hard to defame us.
Q: Are the White Helmets currently having any difficulty with getting funding for things like training and equipment?
A: The needs of the civilians in northwestern Syria are overwhelming and never-ending. In spite of the cease-fire agreement, the daily bombing of civilians has never stopped. Some countries, including the US, have translated their position in support of the right of Syrians to life and protection through financial grants that support our efforts. The White Helmets Foundation is looking forward to greater logistical, financial, and political support that will affect stability and support local communities, and allocate financial grants targeting women and children, the groups most affected by violence in the war that the Syrian regime and its Russian ally launched against Syrian civilians. But the role of the White Helmets Foundation really begins when the war ends. The response and assistance to civilians was an important part, but there is a greater goal that the White Helmets aspire to have, a major role in rebuilding Syria and in the future of Syria which is a completely destroyed country that will require great efforts to recover from the damage that has been done.
Q: The Turkish Civil Defence has praised the White Helmets for assisting them in dealing with recent national disasters in Turkey such as the wildfires and earthquakes. Can you comment?
A: This type of activity is a custom among civil defence institutions all over the world as these teams have always cooperated in crises and disasters. The Syrian Civil Defence took the initiative in communicating our readiness to assist during the events in Lebanon (the port explosion) about a year and a half ago, and other regions in the world, such as the Australian and California wildfires. We have branch offices in Turkey so when forest fires broke out in southern and southwestern Turkey last year, we could not remain idly by and not provide assistance. We had to stand by the Turkish people in this natural disaster. If any natural disaster was to occur in any country, we will not hesitate to provide assistance and stand by the affected people and help them with the experience we have in rescue, firefighting, and responding to these disasters. This is a humanitarian duty and is not subject to any political considerations or interests.
Q: What is your vision for the future of the White Helmets?
A: The White Helmets Foundation for Institutional and Administrative Development has given special attention to improving the quality of our services and has been able to take effective steps in the field of planning that have enabled us to accomplish a number of major achievements and reforms in the past two years. We believe that developing the vision and mission are the first steps in the strategic planning process. Our revised vision was formulated to highlight the values of humanitarian work, and the international approach of the organization through its quest to establish the safe transformation of societies in order for this organization to be the international voice for distressed and afflicted communities. Our mission was formulated to highlight the nature of the institution’s work, its performance and services, its work systems, its values, the purpose of its existence, and its work ethics of integrity and professionalism.