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Syria crisis: inspiration from an unknown midwife

I pull back the scrap of fabric that acts as a doorway and we call through to check all the women inside are covered and still happy to talk to us.

I met Ara* (not her real name) yesterday at a refugee settlement on the Syria border, and promised to return.

She invites me to sit in her tent. It’s dark and cold, with no heater against the chill March air.

The only light comes from the doorway, but we push the door closed: we are discussing women’s issues, and Ara is breastfeeding her baby. The result is sudden darkness.

I grope around for my voice recorder and find it at the bottom of my bag. After checking she is happy for us to record the interview, the translator and I settle down on the floor to chat.

Dramatic birth

Ara is clutching her baby and another of her children is snuggled up against her. Yesterday Ara told me briefly about the dramatic birth of her baby, and after a round of pleasantries, I ask her again about that day.

“It was morning when the contractions started. They carried on all day, I remember that I was so tired. I have always delivered in hospital before, never at home.

Too dangerous to travel

“After nightfall I told my family that I must go to hospital, but they knew there was no way we could get through safely, bombs were already falling.”

I ask why it was so dangerous to travel in her village.

Ara pauses, thinking. Then she shrugs. “They shoot at everything they see at night, and there are so many checkpoints – we would never get past.

“Even if we did get through, where would we go? There are no hospitals now, only a makeshift clinic far away.

I thought I would die

“Around 4am I started to deliver. I was terrified. I was in so much pain, I thought I would die.

“There was a terrible complication in my birth – and I thank god some of my neighbours helped a brave midwife to get through to me. The cord was wrapped around my baby’s neck – the midwife saved my baby boy’s life, and mine too I think.”

I stop for a moment to silently thank that unknown midwife, and to hope that she is safe and is somehow managing to continue her life-saving work inside Syria.

What do I remember? Blood

Ara’s 11 year old daughter Noor* joins the conversation – she was there that night. Noor tells me her version of events and I’m temporarily silenced by the fear in her voice.

After she finishes speaking, in an effort to lighten the mood, I ask what else she remembers of Syria, before the war.

Maybe I was hoping for games, swings and friends. Childhood. Whatever I was imagining, it wasn’t this: “What do I remember of Syria? Blood. This is it.”

Both mother and daughter are speaking passionately now, explaining the death they have seen, the hell they have lived through.

They ask for help, not for themselves, but for the children and families still inside Syria.

Can we do enough?

I think briefly of Save the Children’s work in Syria, and the reality of the on-going brutal conflict.

Can we ever do enough? I have spoken to too many families now, the needs are too immense. And getting aid to those who most need it is both challenging and deadly. Aid workers are dying trying to deliver aid. Families are dying for lack of aid.

Listening to Ara’s story, I find myself realising that whatever we can do, we must.

An unknown, unnamed, Syrian midwife risked her life to help a terrified woman give birth in the middle of a warzone. How can we do less?

*Names have been changed to protect the family’s identity.

As well as responding to the needs of children in Syria, we are on the ground in Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, assisting Syrian children, their families and host communities.

We are helping families access basic services like healthcare, and are providing emergency food rations, emergency shelter kits and warm clothes. We are keeping children safe from harm by creating child-friendly spaces, as well as helping children to access education.

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