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A Natural Humanitarian

A Natural Humanitarian
When street violence spread through the Syrian city of Idlib three years ago, most residents shuttered their windows and stayed home while the fighting raged outside. Dr. Ahmed was not among them. Instead, he ventured out to tend to the wounded.
The 45-year-old dermatologist and plant specialist cauterized flesh wounds (in one case using a barbecue skewer heated on a gas flame), reset broken bones and rescued children separated from their parents. “When you see another human being lying in the street, you have to help,” he says
Today, Ahmed is still helping the needy, but from the side-lines rather than the thick of the Syrian conflict. He is a refugee volunteer for UNHCR, after he and his family fled to Lebanon in 2011, and he has been working as a volunteer since earlier this year.

The needs are overwhelming. In Lebanon alone, some 1.1 million refugees are registered with UNHCR. They are spread out across mountainous terrain and in hard-to-reach urban neighbourhoods with poor roads and limited communications, not in centralized camps. Just locating them can be a challenge. Many arrive in Lebanon with little money and no knowledge about how to get essential services. Volunteers like Ahmed use their contacts to find those most in need and advise them on what help is available through the government, UNHCR and its partner aid agencies.

“When I see suffering and I can offer a helping hand, it’s an amazing feeling.”

Does he miss practicing dermatology? “I am practicing being human,” he says. Recently, in the course of just one morning, he helped track down a physiotherapist for a man whose arm was paralyzed by a bullet wound in Homs, retrieved a small bag of blood medication for an elderly stroke victim too weak to get to the pharmacy on his own, and offered advice and a sympathetic ear to the mother of three ailing children.

After several months surviving in the city, Ahmed got a warning call from someone whose wound he had treated in the street. His name was on a list of those to be detained. He and his wife, who was pregnant at the time, decided it was time to flee. Life is less dangerous in Lebanon, but not without difficulty. Ahmed lives in a part of Tripoli that regularly sees outbursts of sectarian violence.

Ahmed said he will stay in Lebanon for as long as the war in Syria lasts. Yet, he and his wife badly miss the orchards and green fields of his native Idlib, an agricultural centre in the north-western part of the country, near the border with Turkey.