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Remembering Syria's heroes of 2015

Amid all of the hatred and horror of Syria's civil war, there have also been stories of compassion and bravery
Abdul Halim Attar, a Palestinian Syrian refugee living in Jordan, with his daughter

For Syrians, 2015 has been a year of violence, famine, siege and brutality, but amid the inhumanity and barbarism of war there have also been acts of heroism, generosity and love. 

Here are just a few examples of heroism and compassion that grabbed the world's attention in 2015.

Hope for the unborn

In September, doctors in Aleppo performed an emergency caesarian section on a woman injured in a missile strike. Shrapnel had penetrated her torso and she feared for the life of her unborn baby.

A video from the Aleppo City Medical Council, a non-profit medical service, shows doctors working to save the baby, clearing her airways and rubbing her lifeless body until she finally takes a deep breath and starts to cry.

Only then, did the doctors start working to remove a metal fragment embedded just above her left eye. 

Thanks to the hard work of these doctors, both mother and baby were reported to be recovering. 

(Warning: Graphic video which some views may find disturbing)

Rescued from the rubble

First responder groups such as the Syrian White Helmets, a rescue squad of largely civilian volunteers, have saved scores of people buried in the aftermath of air strikes. Videos such as the one below, taken in 2014, show them dragging children from the rubble, still covered in dust and debris after being buried alive:

One story which stands out from 2015 is that of Mohammed Rayhan

After Rayhan went missing in a government air strike on a market in Douma, outside Damascus, that killed more than 100 people, his family were sure that he had been killed. They held a funeral for the young man but on the third day of his funeral commemorations, Rayhan, dazed and with dust still clinging to his hair and beard, walked into his family home, to the astonishment of his grieving relatives.

Rayhan had been buried alive under rubble for three days before he was rescued by the White Helmets

He has since been given the nickname the Living Martyr and is just one of the thousands of people who owe their life to civilians who risk everything to rescue others. 

A photo of Mohammed Rayhan after he returned to his family after three days of being presumed dead (@LinahAlsaafin twitter post)

Turkish fisherman rescue and revive Syrian child

Millions of Syrians have fled their country since the fighting began, with many enduring a perilous journey to Europe. 

 In 2015, tens thousands of refugees from Africa and the Middle East have been rescued at sea by coastguards and humanitarian groups such as Doctors Without Borders, who have sent their own boats to help scour for survivors.

Others, like the Turkish fishermen seen in the above video, have also taken it upon themselves to help.

In the video that emerged in October, fishermen spot a bundle floating in the water which turned out to be 18-month old Syrian toddler Muhammad Hassan. They pull him from the ocean and start to shake him in an effort to drain the water from his lungs.

Nor was the toddler the only one they saved. The same group of fishermen also reportedly rescued a further 15 refugees, including a pregnant woman. 

Wedding day soup kitchen

You don't necessarily have to put your life on the line to be heroic. Sometimes just putting the needs of others before your own can make you a hero too. This Turkish couple tied the knot and then - still in their wedding clothes - went straight to a soup kitchen in Kilis, near the border with Syria, where they served food to 4,000 Syrian refugees instead of having a wedding banquet.

A welcome to the unwanted

One of the most heartwarming things we saw this year was the warm welcome many refugees were given by locals in some parts of Europe. In September, one Syrian refugee filmed the welcome given to a coach of refugees in Oer Erkenschwick, a tiny German town north of Dortmund. Locals gathered with flowers and handmade signs saying: "All refugees are welcome".

In a year which has seen a backlash against the number of refugees coming to Europe - including far-right protests, the burning of mosques, and a rise in Islamophobic crimes - this was an uplifting change.

(Translation: Germans greet the Syrian people with flowers. We thank the German people and their government from the bottom of our hearts for opening their doors to us, in contrast to what Arab government have done)

Similarly warm welcomes were given by football fans a matches in Germany in August, where banners were raised declaring "Refugees welcome."



Paying it forward

In August, Gissur Simonarson, a journalist with Conflict News, shared a photo on his Twitter page of a refugee in Beirut selling pens as his daughter slept in his arms. He began a campaign to track the man down, hoping to help.

Simonarson's campaign called #BuyPens grew rapidly and the refugee was quickly tracked down. His name was Abdul Halim Attar, a Palestinian Syrian from the Yarmouk refugee camp. Support and donations came flooding in, with supporters raising a staggering £80,000 in just two days, to help Attar and his family have a fresh start. 


Screenshot twitter: Gissur Simonarson CN @GissiSim

The story did not end there and 33-year-old Attar now has three businesses, including a bakery and a kebab shop, and he is sharing his good fortune. Not only does he employ 16 other Syrian refugees, but he has also pledged to help others with some of the money raised. He also makes and hands out bread to refugees on a regular basis. 


Puppy love

One story that captured hearts in September was that of 17-year-old teenager, Aslan, who took his husky puppy, Rose, with him on his epic journey from Syria to Europe. He had walked about 500km with his pup when he was spotted by a film crew from the UNHCR. The video of him received more than a million hits in its first 24 hours online. People have been very moved by his refusal to leave his pup behind in his war-torn homeland.


And kittens too... 

Another refugee could not part with was his kitten, Zaytouna (Arabic for olive), who he carried in a homemade sling all the way to the Greek island of Lesbos. 

This refugee fled Syria and went to Greece... taking his kitten with him (Hanin A. D ‏@heidyrien)

What goes around...

Syrian refugees have also been doing their part to help the communities that have welcomed them. 

This Christmas, when 10,000 UK homes were left without electricity and many others destroyed beyond repair due to major flooding, a group of Syrian refugees in Rochdale decided they would lend a helping hand. 

They travelled to the worst flood-hit area where they have been helping to prepare sandbags in an attempt to shore up the flood defence and soak up some of the water. They said they wanted to "give back to the community" that has taken them in. 

Syrian refugees in Manchester help boost flood defences in Rochdale (Screen grab Manchester Evening News)

Another Syrian refugee, Alex, is helping the homeless in his adopted home of Berlin, Germany. His mission is to "give something back to the people that helped" him. His photo has been shared online thousands of times.

Syrian refugee Alex Assali prepares food to be given to the homeless in Berlin, Germany (Image from Facebook/Tabea Bü)

There's also the story of Syrian refugees Johnny and Carol Bilouna who joined the State Emergency Service (SES) within a month of arriving in Australia. They have been trained in flood and bushfire rescues and say it is their way of giving back to the Australian community which has welcomed them to their new home

Twitter screen grab (Photo: Adam McLean)

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