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TED2018

Rola Hallam: The doctors, nurses and aid workers rebuilding Syria

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Local humanitarians are beacons of light in the darkness of war, says humanitarian aid entrepreneur and TED Fellow Rola Hallam. She's working to help responders on the ground in devastated communities like Syria, where the destruction of health care is being used as a weapon of war. One of her campaigns achieved a global first: a crowdfunded hospital. Since it opened in 2017, the aptly named Hope Hospital has treated thousands of children. "Local humanitarians have the courage to persist, to dust themselves off from the wreckage and to start again, risking their lives to save others," Hallam says. "We can match their courage by not looking away or turning our backs."

- Humanitarian aid entrepreneur
TED Fellow Rola Hallam helps local humanitarians provide aid to their own war-devastated communities. Full bio

"Five hospitals in Aleppo
have been bombed."
00:13
That was a text message that I received
on a dark winter night in November 2016.
00:17
One of them was a children's hospital
00:23
run by my Syrian colleagues
00:26
at the Independent
Doctors Association, IDA.
00:27
It was the sixth time it had been bombed.
00:31
I watched in horror heartbreaking footage
of the head nurse, Malak,
00:35
in the aftermath of the bombing,
00:38
grabbing premature babies
out of their incubators,
00:40
desperate to get them to safety,
00:43
before she broke down in tears.
00:45
And I felt devastated.
00:48
Fellow humanitarians and I
have spent blood, sweat and tears
00:51
rebuilding hospitals
00:55
so that our patients may live, not die.
00:56
And through this work, I made a discovery.
01:01
The reason that people survive in crisis
01:05
is because of the remarkable work
of the people in crisis themselves.
01:08
People survive because of the local
doctors, nurses and aid workers
01:13
who are from the very heart
of the affected community,
01:17
the people who dare to work
where others can't or won't.
01:20
People survive because
of people like Malak,
01:24
who, despite sustaining a severe
burns injury in the line of duty,
01:28
the first thing she did
when discharged from hospital
01:32
was to go back caring for small children.
01:34
From the rubble of death and devastation
01:38
arise the most gallant
and noble human beings.
01:41
Local humanitarians
are the beacons of light
01:45
in the darkness of war.
01:48
Now, the data shows
that Syrian organizations carry out
01:51
75 percent of the humanitarian
work in Syria.
01:54
Yet, they receive 0.3 percent
of the Syria aid budget.
01:59
And what's more, the same is happening
across the crises of the world.
02:05
I have witnessed this reality.
02:11
It means those with the knowledge,
skill and ability
02:13
to respond on the front lines
02:16
have little of the necessary tools,
equipment and resources
02:17
they need to save lives.
02:21
It means groups like IDA don't have funds
to rebuild their hospital.
02:23
The humanitarian system is failing
the most vulnerable communities
02:28
in their darkest hours.
02:32
Now, at the time
of receiving that message,
02:35
I was on sabbatical from my clinical work,
02:37
setting up CanDo,
02:39
a start-up determined
to address this imbalance
02:40
and enable local responders
to provide health care
02:43
to their war-devastated communities.
02:45
We had devised a simple model:
02:48
source trusted and impactful local groups,
02:51
support their development
through an accelerator program
02:54
and connect them to you
via our crowdfunding platform,
02:57
where they can fund-raise
for their health needs.
03:01
So when IDA asked for help,
03:03
I decided to launch CanDo
seven months early,
03:05
with very little money,
03:09
and many people, including myself,
thought I had finally gone mad.
03:11
I wanted to do something
that transformed our collective anger
03:17
into something beautiful.
03:22
And that's how
the People's Convoy was born.
03:24
It was a global crowdfunding campaign
03:27
to enable IDA to rebuild
a whole new children's hospital,
03:29
and, if successful, we the people
would take the medical equipment
03:32
all the way from London
to the Syria border.
03:37
And we did it.
03:40
Thousands of people came together
from across the world
03:42
to achieve a global first:
03:45
we built the first-ever
crowdfunded hospital.
03:47
The location was carefully chosen
by the local experts, IDA,
03:50
where they knew it would be safe
03:54
and serve the greatest number
of displaced children.
03:56
IDA was so moved by people's response,
04:00
they named it "Hope Hospital."
04:02
It's been open for exactly one year,
04:05
and they have treated
over 15,000 children.
04:07
(Applause)
04:11
We can provide lifesaving assistance
in the most volatile places on earth.
04:17
The system needs to change,
04:22
and change starts with us all
sharing a new humanitarian vision,
04:23
one where you, global citizens
with skills, expertise and resources,
04:29
stand together with the local responders;
04:33
one where we are all humanitarians,
04:37
putting the necessary resources
in the hands of those who need them most
04:40
and are best placed to use them
effectively and efficiently.
04:44
We need to support the people
who are not only saving lives now,
04:48
but it will also be them stitching
their wounded communities back together,
04:52
once a conflict is over to help them heal.
04:56
Local humanitarians
have the courage to persist,
05:00
to dust themselves off from the wreckage
05:04
and to start again,
risking their lives to save others.
05:06
And we can match their courage
by not looking away or turning our backs,
05:10
by helping those
who are helping themselves,
05:15
and together, save more lives.
05:18
Thank you.
05:21
(Applause)
05:23
(Cheers)
05:24
(Applause)
05:25
Shoham Arad: Come over here, please.
05:29
Why are hospitals being bombed?
05:32
Rola Hallam: Yeah, good question.
05:34
So, Physicians for Human Rights
have documented
05:36
nearly 500 attacks on hospitals
05:39
and over 800 medical personnel
who have been killed --
05:41
over 90 percent of it
by the Syrian regime --
05:44
and they say this is part
of a systemic targeting
05:47
and destruction of health care,
05:50
using it as a weapon of war.
05:52
And the thing with this is
that it's not just our problem,
05:54
it's yours, too, and everyone's,
05:56
because A, it exacerbates
the refugee situation --
05:58
when you have a decimated
health care system,
06:00
it means the next Ebola-type
epicenter of disease is going to be Syria;
06:03
and unfortunately, it sets
a very dangerous precedent
06:07
that makes all of our hospitals
anywhere in the world dangerous,
06:09
and that is now how it should be.
06:13
SA: So this actually
isn't just about money, either,
06:15
CanDo isn't just about money.
06:17
Tell me what it means to you
that 5,000 people all over the world
06:19
contributed 350,000 dollars
to build Hope Hospital.
06:22
RH: I think the answer
is in that word, it's in hope.
06:28
I think everyone who donated,
they had their faith in humanity renewed,
06:31
knowing there are people like IDA
and those doctors,
06:36
who are exhibiting
the absolute best of humanity,
06:38
and it was like an absolute reciprocation.
06:41
IDA and these Syrians
and many people in places of conflict
06:43
feel very unheard and unseen.
06:47
And I think the fact that --
06:49
and they see things
through the prism of government,
06:50
so when they see government's not acting,
06:53
they assume everyone
who lives in those places doesn't care.
06:55
So when they see that display,
06:58
it really does just renew
everyone's faith in humanity.
06:59
SA: Thank you, Rola.
07:02
RH: Thank you.
SA: Thank you for everything.
07:03
(Applause)
07:05

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About the speaker:

Rola Hallam - Humanitarian aid entrepreneur
TED Fellow Rola Hallam helps local humanitarians provide aid to their own war-devastated communities.

Why you should listen

After war broke out in her home country of Syria, British-Syrian anaesthesiologist Rola Hallam wanted to use her medical expertise to work directly with Syrian NGOs to help save lives. She co-founded Hand in Hand for Syria, which played an integral part in building seven hospitals in northern Syria. But Hallam wanted to make sure local aid organizations – not just international NGOs – had support too. So in 2016, she founded CanDo, a social enterprise that enables local humanitarians from war-devastated areas to provide aid to their own communities through global crowdfunding and supporting them through an accelerator program. To date, CanDo has helped raise $400,000 from over 5,000 donors around the world. Hallam also works as a global advocate to press decision-makers to stop the targeting of civilians in war zones, and the protection of medical neutrality.

More profile about the speaker
Rola Hallam | Speaker | TED.com