Located in the heart of the Middle East, Syria is a country that has dominated the spotlight on the world stage for many years now. Unfortunately, the headlines reflect a very grave situation.
Syria has been grappling with a brutal civil war that has endured since 2011. As a result of the conflict, over 50% of Syria’s population has been displaced. Over 13 million people are in need of basic humanitarian aid, and the crisis has been the catalyst for the largest migration since World War II.
If you’re considering volunteering in Syria, know that your safety is far from guaranteed. Both trained aid workers with the top humanitarian organizations and volunteers have died in car bombings, targeted attacks, and airstrikes in recent years.
While there is a great deal of work to be done in Syria, volunteering there demands a highly technical skill set and well-developed background in risk assessment. Before heading to a war-torn area, it is absolutely necessary to understand the risks involved.
At Go Overseas, we strive to provide the most comprehensive program listings available, with reviews to help you choose the right volunteer abroad program for you. Unfortunately, at this time we do not have programs we feel comfortable suggesting if you want to volunteer in Syria. You can read the rest of this guide to volunteering in Syria, which includes some global organizations recommendations to start researching volunteer alternatives, use the search page to look for programs, or consider volunteering in a neighboring country to support volunteer efforts in the region around Syria. Good countries to consider as alternatives to volunteering in Syria include Jordan, Turkey, Greece, and Lebanon.
Do keep in mind that even though you possibly could volunteer in Syria, this doesn't mean that you should. Only those who are able to be self-sustaining (speak the language, can fund their trip, provide a valuable skill) should consider heading to Syria in a volunteer role. That said, here are a few of the project capacities taking place in Syria:
As an inevitable consequence of armed conflict, there is a substantial need for trained medical personnel across the country. While international organizations are helping to fill in for vacancies for local doctors and nurses, these teams are short-staffed and work in temporary clinics and hospitals that have not yet been destroyed.
The work of community-based volunteers is multi-disciplined. Community volunteers run vocational workshops and skills training sessions for civilians looking to continue on with their lives. For the larger organizations, volunteers perform the vital administrative work of registering civilians. Skilled volunteers that can speak Arabic are an asset to any organization on the ground in Syrian communities.
Conflict in Syria is creating a new wave of complex mental health challenges. Chronic displacement from home, loss of family members, and broken communities are adversely affecting the Syrian people. Children are among the group most affected by the violence -- and the impact of constant trauma can have long-lasting detrimental effects.
If you speak Arabic and have a background in automotive technical skills, then becoming a driver of essential personnel and supplies in Syria could be for you. This line of work is critical to keep the work of many organizations going. Drivers have become the heart and soul of Syrian relief aid. Of course, this also makes drivers an increased target for terrorist groups and militant forces.
Again, it is imperative to remember that if you do not provide a valuable skill to an organization or community, you have no business traveling to Syria in a volunteer capacity. Syria is not a place for the casual volunteer. Syria is for emotionally intelligent and culturally-sensitive individuals with capacities to handle crises and extreme levels of risk that could potentially endanger their lives.
Where to Volunteer in Syria
Different organizations serve different purposes in different areas of Syria -- so be sure to reach out to organizations where you can be the most beneficial to their aid efforts. Remember, some of these areas come with more inherent risks than others.
You should do your due diligence and research any organization you plan on working with. Likewise, any organization you work with should do a background check on your skill set in international development. As you would be working with vulnerable populations (especially children), a criminal background check will likely be carried out by your host organization.
There are a variety of organizations on the ground in Syria carrying out vital aid work despite the conflict. All of these organizations are well-established in the international community. Here are a few global organizations and their mandates in Syria:
- The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is a humanitarian organization with the mandate to help those affected by humanitarian crisis to survive, recover, and regain control of their lives. Their work began in Syria in 2012 and in 2017 they provided aid to over 1.1 million Syrians. Work with the IRC could be conducted in a variety of capacities related to vocational training, gender-based violence, and basic first aid.
- >The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) was founded in 1942. SARC is a humanitarian organization that is officially recognized by the The International Committee of the Red Cross. The mandate of the organization is multidisciplinary, focusing on healthcare, education, vocational training, and community development. SARC has a headquarters in Damascus and also has fourteen branches - one in each of the fourteen governorates of Syria.
- The International Medical Corp works in Syria in the area of emergency medical assistance. The limited capacity of the country’s healthcare system means that international organizations are making up for most of the aid right now. As their mandate is to provide medical aid, volunteers should have prior practical healthcare training.
- Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières - MSF) is a well-known organization conducting humanitarian aid work around the globe. As MSF is largely focussed on providing assistance in the area of healthcare, those looking to work with MSF should have a skill set that is medically-focused.
If you want to volunteer in Syria, or you are interested in helping with the crisis in Syria specifically, volunteering in Lebanon is an alternative. Relief & Reconciliation for Syria (RRS) is currently looking for Arabic-speaking or high-skilled volunteers to join their team in northern Lebanon, just a few miles from the Syrian border. However, working close to the Syrian-Lebanese border comes with increased risk since the route of entry/exit has been targeted by militant groups.
Housing & Accommodation
Locating safe housing is difficult given the situation in Syria. Even aid workers are not guaranteed adequate housing, basic goods, or even a baseline level of safety. Nevertheless, the organization you are volunteering with should be your first contact for seeking accommodation.
Language Requirements & Tips
As the official language in Syria is Arabic, an intermediate level of Arabic is recommended. While some educated Syrians do know English or even French, knowing Arabic is essential to the volunteer work you'd be conducting. Speaking a dialect of Kurdish is useful if you plan to enter the Kurdish regions of Syria.
The climate is very hot and dry in most of the country. However, since Syria is a predominantly Muslim country, you'll need to pack with conservative dress in mind. Following the desired professional dress code for the organization you'll be working with is essential. As a rule of thumb, pack light and rugged.
Depending on the passport you hold, it’s likely that you’ll require a visa to enter Syria. These cannot be obtained on arrival and must be applied for in advance. If you do make it to the ground in Syria, keep your documents on you at all times and make photocopies to leave with relatives outside the country.
Currently, Syria is an active war zone where both military and civilian casualties are an unfortunate daily occurrence. While humanitarian aid workers are, by international law, not supposed to be a target of attacks and violence, workers on the ground continue to be harmed in Syria.
If you are heading to Syria, be sure that your vaccinations are up to date. Consult with a travel doctor before leaving. Always carry proof of vaccinations with you on the ground. Access to basic food and water is not guaranteed depending on the region where you are volunteering. It's important to discuss with your organization what the contingency plans are in case of increased crisis on the ground.
Since the security situation can be unstable, it’s important to always be aware of your surroundings. There is no guarantee that if you run into danger Syrian authorities or your home government, will be able to assist you.
Movement can be restricted without warning across the country and cities like Aleppo and Damascus can be cut off for weeks on end. Some land borders are no longer controlled by the Syrian government and commercial air travel has been very limited since the beginning of the violence.