Nazeer Abbas is an activist in Kafranbel and head of Radio Fresh’s sound engineering department. In this op-ed, he writes about the inspirational team working to save lives in Kafranbel.
Let me tell you the story of the Kafranbel Surgical Hospital and the people who work there. The hospital has not had an easy history, but it is one that we in Kafranbel are proud of. It has been attacked by the regime at least 100 times and completely forced out of service 15 times, but the amazing team of doctors and nurses have reopened it every time, and it continues to serve our community.
The hospital was founded by a group of volunteer doctors and nurses in 2011, at the beginning of the Syrian revolution, to treat those injured by the regime during peaceful protests. Once Kafranbel was liberated from the regime in 2012, the hospital was moved to a larger building.
Last year, aerial attacks by the Syrian regime or Russia completely destroyed the hospital, forcing staff to move it to a different, undisclosed location. It’s now being run by a group of around 40 doctors, technicians, nurses, and administrative staff, most of them locals from Kafranbel. When the regime attacks civilians with ground missiles and airstrikes in surrounding areas, most of the injured get evacuated to our hospital. There have been several cases where staff have recognised injured or dying patients as their relatives—an unbearably painful moment for them.
I’ve always been so impressed by all the staff; their bravery and dedication are so admirable. When ambulances bring in the injured, you see everyone rushing to save them, not only doctors or nurses, even the non-specialists or those on a break will come to help, providing first aid and treating wounds. Ahed, who’s responsible for purchasing supplies for the hospital, has the softest heart. You’ll find him helping the injured and crying over the horrible scenes he’s seeing. One day the hospital admitted a mother and her children who had been injured in a military attack. The mother died and her little girl started screaming: “Please mum, don’t leave us.” Ahed was weeping; he couldn’t stand watching the little girl suffer. But he continues to work at the hospital because he wants to help.
Natheer is the head nurse, a hardworking man and a great leader who inspires everyone in the team. Rami is the radiography technician, you’ll find him behind his machines tirelessly responding to up to 30 inquiries at a time, always smiling and loved by everyone in the town. Murhaf, one of the nurses, helps carry the injured from the ambulance to inside the hospital, treating wounds and setting up IVs. You’ll find him running up and down the stairs and between rooms carrying and serving as many patients as possible.
Mohamed Abed, a lab technician and my best friend, is scared of the airstrikes and bombings. But he always tells me that when he sees the injured calling for help, he forgets all about the bombings and his fears. He’ll get lab results, transfer blood and rush to operating rooms as fast as possible to save lives. He says that every day he survives an attack on the hospital, he feels like he’s born again.
Noura, a nurse, has faced death many times as a result of attacks targeting the hospital. She’s always nervous and afraid but won’t stop working. I remember two years ago when people injured in the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack were brought to the hospital, Noura got infected while treating them, she had a skin rash, couldn’t breath well and fainted. But as soon as she got better, she came back to work like nothing had happened—she’s so brave.
I don’t have the words to describe the horrible circumstances under which this brave team is working. They get paid so little, not enough to make a living, and they’re risking their own lives every day to work at a place that the regime is determined to bomb into rubble. They witness the cruelest scenes of death, but none of that breaks their spirits. They are the best and most dedicated team I’ve ever seen.
The hospital has a football team, which participates in local tournaments organised by the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus, a civil society organisation in Kafranbel. You see them getting ready long before every match, with their distinctive uniforms, wearing headbands and kneepads, and warming up so vigorously. You think to yourself, those guys are definitely going to win, but they always lose, poor guys. They’re the greatest hospital team, but not as good at football. If I were rich, I’d hire the best coach in the world to train them, they deserve the World Cup for having saved so many lives for so many years.