For 31-year-old Shahoud, the hardest part of any search and rescue mission in the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo is seeing the horrific effects of bombing on children.
“When we reach the bomb site and we find children alive — thank God we’ve rescued children,” says Shahoud, who is a team leader of a White Helmet group in the divided city, once Syria’s largest.
“I do my work, but inside I’m crying. Especially for the children,” he says in the Al Jazeera documentary featured at the end of this post.
Shahoud first joined the White Helmets — the informal name for the Syrian Civil Defense — in 2013. He and his fellow volunteers — who get paid an allowance — conduct search and rescue missions in the eastern part of the city where around 275,000 people remain.
Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have been fighting various rebel groups in Aleppo since 2012.
For a general overview of the White Helmets, see this video from Seeker Daily:
Shahoud says he has seen so much death, has had so many family members and friends killed, that it became normalized for him.
“They were being killed daily by shelling or snipers. It became normal. It’s like our hearts died,” he says.
He didn’t want to join either the Free Syrian Army or the military supporting Assad’s regime.
“With this work, at least you’re rescuing a soul, not killing one,” he says.
“My weapons are my helmet, my shovel and medical equipment.”
The Western-funded White Helmets have saved an estimated 56,000 lives since the war began in 2011. During that time, over 138 White Helmets have been killed and more than 400 seriously injured. Around 3,000 Syrians work as White Helmets across the country.
This year, they were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Eastern Aleppo has been subjected to constant airstrikes from Assad’s forces and Russian forces in recent weeks.
According to Time, Russian airstrikes knocked out two of the White Helmet’s facilities in that part of the city during September.
Syria’s 5-year-long civil war has so far claimed over 400,000 lives.
See Shahoud and other White Helmets in action is this documentary from Al Jazeera English: