26-year-old dentistry student, Muhammad Darwish, took matters into his own hands when the Syrian civil war launched him out of his profession and into a new one – a surgeon.
Once a vibrant town, Madaya became the target of attack in 2015 when it was held under siege by Hezbollah – a Lebanese Shia militia group that allied with Syrian President Bashar al Assad, says Vice News. Madaya along with Zabadani, a nearby town, were populated by anti-government fighters. In an effort to attack and discourage rebel fighters, President Bashar al Assad used a technique called “siege and starve” to force heavily rebel populated towns to surrender.
According to Time Magazine, Muhammad became one of three remaining “doctors” in the besieged town of Madaya, which is home to about 40,000 people.
“Situated in the mountains not far from the Lebanese border, my home town, Madaya used to be a popular mountain resort.” Muhammad told Time Magazine in 2017. “That changed in the summer of 2015 when the Syrian civil war reached us. At that time, I was a year away from completing my studies to become a dentist,” he said.
Now, the city of Madaya is encased by landmines which were laid around the town by Hezbollah. Citizens flee by bus injured and in fear of being killed by sniper attacks in hopes to get proper medical attention, shelter, and food.
“Because of our isolation in a war zone, we receive a small amount of international aid — limited to rice, groats and beans – all carbohydrates,” Muhammad told People. “People lack protein and other essential nutrients. This has led to severe forms of malnutrition. This is something we’d never seen before, yet we struggle to manage it” says Muhammad in his interview. Children and the elderly have been severely affected by malnutrition.
Heartbroken and instilled with an urgency to help, Muhammad took matters into his own hands, and began running a medical care facility that was abandoned by doctors in search of safety. Muhammad, a dentistry student, along with another dentist an agricultural engineer, and veterinarian try to keep the facility afloat with a single surgical table, glucose solution, and limited medical supplies, reports Vice News.
Desperate to help, Muhammad and his colleagues perform operations through WhatsApp by taking pictures of patients and sending them to doctors in nearby towns. Since the civil war broke out in Syria, a community of healthcare professionals have banded together in order to help people who are trapped in towns like Madaya, says BBC.
Hezbollah has ordered snipers to kill anyone who steps outside, has allowed very few evacuations out of Madaya, and accepted minimal humanitarian aid. When photos of Madaya, including stories like Muhammad’s, reached the media, organizations like the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) and the United Nations, became outraged and demanded that Madaya be given aid. Since then WhatsApp groups and Skype networks have been set up by specialists and NGOs inside and outside Syria, in an effort to help medical workers in clinics like Madaya’” reported BBC.
Muhammad and his three partners are severely undertrained and often perform intense medical procedures like amputations, Cesarean sections, and treat gunshot victims under unsterile and highly dangerous conditions. Despite their efforts, many patients still die because of the lack of proper medical equipment.
Muhammad has since fled Madaya angry, sad, and happy, he tells Time Magazine. He is happy that the siege is finished, but sad to abandon his town. A year earlier the team’s veterinarian fled Madaya as well when he learned that the town paid a local hitman to kill him after the veterinarian spoke to the media.
Unable to do more and scared for his life, Muhammad left Madaya with a new found calling – to become a surgeon. He told Time Magazine that he hopes to go back to school and become a qualified surgeon to help his people one day.
Muhammad Darwish became one of five finalists for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, which is awarded annually in Yerevan, Armenia, on behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide in gratitude to their saviors, reported Time Magazine.