FEATURE: An Irishman has been saving lives in Syria and now he needs our help 5 years ago

FEATURE: An Irishman has been saving lives in Syria and now he needs our help

Syria needs more than our prayers and our hashtags.

Winter has arrived in Syria and as the political game continues, there are millions in poverty. Some of the people who have managed to flee are now trapped in camps on the border and have nothing to protect themselves from the whipping cold, says Calvin James.


Calvin James is a DJ and a former social care worker from Dublin. He first travelled to Syria in 2012 and recently volunteered there for seven months. James says he travelled there after finding it difficult to sleep with thoughts of the people in danger there invading his mind.

Speaking to JOE, James says the situation is going to get worse as the weather gets colder and more people flood in to makeshift refugee camps on the borders while trying to escape the bombings.  

thumbnail_Calvin and the lads

It is hard to know what to do, yes, but Calvin James has a purpose, a charity; Syrias Vibes, where he hosts and facilitates events to raise money for specific causes in Syria. Right now he is trying to raise €50k to buy two ambulances and to provide material warmth for refugees in the border camps in Northern Syria.


The video of Omran Daqneesh, the five-year-old boy rescued from the rubble and put in the back of an ambulance, was one moment that captured the world and focused all attention on Syria.

It was an image we thought could change the world, but its power barely lasted one news cycle. Thousands of you read and shared the JOE story where we asked what could we do to help, because to do nothing seemed criminal.

By watching Omran in that ambulance we became witnesses, we became implicated in the torture of Syria but the question remains; how can we help?


Over and over that question is asked by individuals who see the torture of Syria and breathe the pain of a million people trapped under siege by their own government.

 It is a simple question but it is usually answered with red-tape, roadblocks and excuses; 

It is too complicated.

Our government has no sway.

Ireland has its own problems.

Donating money is useless.


And all the while the Syrian government’s policy of 'surrender or starve' continues.

The Syrian government is bombing its own people, bombing them in their homes, in schools, in hospitals. There is not a single hospital left in Aleppo that has escaped bombs. 

Children are being killed not only in the first explosion but in the second or third. They are trapped in buildings aware that they are only alive because they are waiting to die.


The Syrian government is purposefully targeting its most vulnerable citizens, beating them into submission through endless deprivation of water, food and supplies.

They have denied using chlorine gas on civilians, to do so would breach the International Chemical Weapons Convention. Yet the use of the chemical has been suspected in multiple attacks on Syrian civilians.

During the Vietnam War, a photo of a small child who was burned during a chemical attack went ‘viral’ throughout the world.

In the '70s, going viral however had different implications. The photo infected people as they tried and failed to digest the horror. It caused mass protests in the States and many credit it with heralding the beginning of the end of the conflict.

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Photo Via: Associated Press

Recently this video was posted on Twitter of four children in Syria who Reuters reported suffocated to death after being hit with a barrel bomb laced with chlorine. The video barely made a ripple.

(Warning; this is a graphic video)

This lack of reaction is not a reflection of callousness in people.

Every anguish we witness depletes us; the heart is a muscle and it can only exercise so much outrage, feel so much despair, pump out so much empathy before it needs to protect itself.

No, we are not callous for looking away from Syria but we are wrong.

Since July, 275,000 civilians have been trapped in eastern Aleppo due to the siege tactics enforced by the Syrian Government and its allies.

Russia and Syria have opened corridors for civilians to leave, but they are reportedly unsafe. There have also been reports that armed rebel groups inside eastern Aleppo have prevented those wishing to leave the city from doing so.

In a recent speech to the UN, the under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien said food is scarce in Aleppo, prices have sky-rocketed and most neighbourhoods have no gas or fuel to cook with.

The third child to die from malnutrition in east Aleppo, Israa Biro was 10 years old. Two infants have also died from starvation. One baby was being breastfed but his mother was so malnourished that the baby boy turned blue and died. Families in Syria are reportedly given 850g of bread every two days to feed themselves.

Syrians who are trapped in rebel-held areas are being isolated, starved, bombed and denied medical attention and humanitarian assistance by Syrian leader Assad regime, in order to force them to submit or flee.

This suffering is unnecessary and it is inhumane. Hundreds of thousands of people are being destroyed for the political, military and economic gain of a government that should be protecting its citizens.

Constantly we hear of the horror. The hashtag #wecantsaywedidntknow is attached to images of the dead and the dying on Twitter. It includes us in the guilt that we have done nothing to save the 69 children murdered this year alone, or the thousands injured or the hundreds of thousands who have been injured, separated from their families and exploited.

Yet it seems it is too big a task to be the witnesses of war and too much a burden of humanitarian guilt to observe it for longer than a tweet or two a day.

The UN have not been able to get aid convoys into the besieged regions for more than five months and the UK and the US are fearful of dropping aid in even by drones for fear of causing an international incident that could spiral out of control.


There are so many arguments against helping people in Syria and the many other regions which are plagued by war and terror. There are so many reasons not to engage; we have homeless people here, it is not our war, it is too complicated to get involved. 

That may sound logical but it is not, it is just easy. We are all human and when they suffer, we suffer too.

In this instance, in this war, unless you are a political leader the reality is you can do little to stop the bombing and the games that Russian, Syrian and American politicians are playing with people's lives.

But you can donate money or your time or your ideas so that those who are alive can be warm and fed and do not die unnecessarily of starvation and the cold.

Calvin James is planning on going back to Syria in January to volunteer. Syrias Vibes is a way to help directly, it is a way to ensure your compassion goes to those who are in immediate need. You can find their Facebook page here and their website here.

Syrias Vibes host events to raise cash and their next one is on December 6th in Portobello in Dublin.