What it’s like when a death sentence is lifted

Khaled Naanaa and his family

Khaled Naanaa

16 Mar, 2017

The day I came to Australia, it was a new beginning. It was a dream. It felt like a new life.

Back in Syria, after six years of war, it felt like life had stopped. Any minute I could have been hit with a bullet or bombed and left to die.

When the war started, I was living in Damascus and my wife was pregnant. As a nurse, I felt compelled to provide medical care for people who were injured. It was my duty.

Three weeks after my wife had the baby I returned to treating injured civilians.

By mid 2012 there was an urgent need for medical care in the small town of Madaya, 50 kilometres west of Damascus. When I arrived there, people were overwhelmed and they were so happy to receive medical attention. The situation was really horrible. There was no functioning hospital and injured people were being treated on a kitchen bench.

There were snipers all over the place and we were constantly bombarded. The number of people being injured or killed was unimaginable. Our medical facility was the only place people could receive treatment.

I had to figure out how to improve the level of care and help people who were bombarded and constantly injured. I had to find doctors to help. I managed to train about 15 people to work as medical assistants.

A small team of doctors arrived in 2013. A few months later, one of the doctors was hit by a bomb and he was badly injured. The same month, the doctor’s family narrowly survived another attack.

The remaining doctors left Madaya and I was alone at the clinic. I felt like crying. I just wanted to leave with them and go home to my wife and daughter.

But 20,000 people in Madaya had lost their homes due to the war. They were in desperate need and I felt responsible. There was no way I could leave those poor people behind.

I had to find out how to deal with injuries and amputations. I was constantly calling doctors for advice. I went on YouTube to learn how to operate, how to perform surgery on injured people and how to open people’s stomachs. I learnt how to stitch after surgery and set broken bones.

When you are in this situation, struggling to survive for months or years, you can feel forgotten. But I am glad that when people in Australia see injustice on their TV screens, when they see a baby crying from hunger, their instinct is to help.

If you can give even a small amount of money, it can provide food or clean water or medicines for people who are struggling to live.

In Madaya we couldn’t get any food or medical supplies. We had 30,000 to 40,000 people who were starving. The town had been under siege for three years. We felt like there was no one to save us.

Then trucks full of aid arrived in January 2016, from Red Cross Red Crescent and the United Nations.

It was like I had been sentenced to death, and suddenly declared innocent and granted freedom. When we saw those trucks, it felt like everyone was supporting us and the world finally knew what we were going through. It was like having a new life. It was priceless.

I witnessed so many people who felt they didn’t have anyone to save them. When help arrived, it was like a hand pull them back from the brink of death. Can you imagine the appreciation and gratitude? It could be something little but that’s all it takes to stay alive.

This is why I am asking you not to forget Syria. Because you can help mothers and fathers and children who are starving and struggling. You can help them cope, knowing that someone cares about what is happening to them.

Life is too precious. In Madaya, my life was threatened. I had to leave the town though we were surrounded by snipers and there were bombs every where. I made it to Lebanon and received support to apply for a new life in Australia. Now I’m here in Australia, I want to continue to give. I’d like to continue helping people as a medical professional. Really from my heart I want to help as much as possible.

Khaled Naanaa is an emergency nurse who was in the besieged Syrian town of Madaya when Red Cross Red Crescent aid convoys arrived last year. He’s now establishing a new life with his family in Perth.

This article was originally published in the Sydney Telegraph on Friday 10 March. The content has been used with the permission of the Australian Red Cross.

  • Khaled Naanaa
    Khaled Naanaa

    Khaled Naanaa is an emergency nurse who was in the besieged Syrian town of Madaya when Red Cross Red Crescent aid convoys arrived last year. He’s now establishing a new life with his family in Perth.

    This article was originally published in the Sydney Telegraph on Friday 10 March. The content has been used with the permission of the Australian Red Cross.


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