Relief efforts in Syria involve everything from spreading awareness about the conflict to providing hands-on medical services, according to Monzer Yazji.
As president of the Syrian offices of the Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations, Yazji spoke to approximately 40 members of the Yale community in the Branford Common Room Thursday afternoon about the status of relief efforts in Syria. Founded in 2011, UOSSM is a coalition of 13 non-governmental organizations that provide humanitarian and medical relief to people in Syria, as well as refugees. According to Yazji, UOSSM is currently in discussions with the United Nations on how to expand its support programs.
A native of Syria and graduate of the University of Damascus, Yazji moved to America to practice medicine. After the events of the Arab Spring, however, Yazji helped found UOSSM with the belief that everyone, regardless of race, religion or political ideology, should have access to free health services. When Yazji is not providing health care throughout Syria and in Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, he tends to patients at his medical practices in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas.
Though it is difficult to get medical supplies into Syria, Yazji said UOSSM has managed to provide 65 percent of the medical supplies in North Syria and about 85 percent of the supplies in the Damascus suburbs.
But Yazji said that providing medical aid is far from easy, citing the opposition of Syrian government officials as a major obstacle.
“It has been a continuous struggle,” Yazji said.
Yazji recounted the story of Dr. Abbas Khan, a 32-year-old orthopedic surgeon from South London who worked with UOSSM providing aid to Syrians in Aleppo last year. Khan was detained in a Syrian prison and died before his slated release date, Yazji said.
Though Yazji said his daughter, Sarah Yazji ’16, has accompanied him on his travels to Syria multiple times, he added that many people involved in relief efforts fear that their children may be attacked by government officials.
“They come for our families,” he said. “They don’t want us helping.”
Yazji urged students to get involved. As UOSSM grows, he said there is a great deal of work to be done, not only in the medical field but also in politics and in the media.
Yazji said he has worked with young people in Syria to try and promote more accurate media coverage of the atrocities. UOSSM has begun providing cameras and computers to citizen journalists to report the truth, he said.
At a dinner with Branford students after his talk, Yazji spoke of a young Syrian reporter who was targeted by officials for using a camera provided by Yazji and fellow relief activists. The boy was killed in front of his mother, Yazji said.
After the talk, many students stayed behind to ask Yazji more about how they could get involved on an individual level.
Moustafa Moustafa MED ’14, who has worked with Yazji on getting containers into Syria, said he found the talk inspirational because it reminded him of the courage he saw on the Syrian-Turkish border. Moustafa added that he plans to travel back to a Syrian refugee camp in Kilis, Turkey with two Yale undergraduates over spring break.
Eric Musonza ’16, who plans to work with Doctors Without Borders after he graduates, said Yazji’s words had a strong impact on him.
“[I’m] realizing that there’s far more to what I’ve dreamt of than I had expected,” Musonza said.
UOSSM is currently headquartered in Paris.