In the barren courtyard of the Diban Health Clinic, roughly a two-hour bumpy drive south of Deir ez-Zor, Syria, a group of local women, clad in colorful hijabs or black niqabs (Islamic garments), wait in line. A team of American Special Operations soldiers and their local partners casually hang about, providing security for the surroundings. The remorseless heat shimmered in hazy waves off the pavement. Inside, the facility is bustling with activity as clinic staff, along with representatives from the Diban Civil Council and Deir ez-Zor Women’s Council, go about checking IDs, crossing names off handwritten lists, and handing out boxes of supplies one at a time.
Since the eruption of the Syrian civil war, the bloodiest in recent history, these women have endured unfathomable hardships. They are now waiting to receive feminine hygiene products and prenatal vitamins provided by Spirit of America. One mother divulges, “Before today, I haven’t seen a doctor in over 10 years.”
In early June, during a meeting with the Deir ez-Zor Women’s Council members, the US Special Operations team learned about an urgent need amongst the women in the area: hygiene products and prenatal vitamins. Given our long-standing relationship with the US special operations task force in Syria, the team leader reached out to us. He explained:
“This rural area of Northeast Syria is impoverished, with an average income of approximately $2 a day and minimal access to essential services. Here, where women’s hygiene products have been reported to cost up to 20% of the average monthly household income, most women are expected to make do with whatever is on hand. As a result, women in this area are at high risk for infections that can lead to sterility.”
In a recent study, the UN estimated that 7.3 million women and girls in Syria need critical health services. Twelve years of bloody conflict, mass displacement, infrastructure collapse, economic devastation, and an ongoing pandemic has made the situation for an already vulnerable group even more dire.
Over the years, I’ve been involved in just about every imaginable type of aid work related to Syria: food, winter clothing, medical equipment, countering violent extremism, power generators, sewage repair, education, social cohesion, playground equipment, and so on. But feminine hygiene products and prenatal vitamins are a first. “It’s in an area where women’s needs are typically overlooked,” the team leader wrote.
With the ever-growing list of critical humanitarian needs in Syria, feminine health is often neglected. It was that awareness that guided our determination to help. As a result, we swiftly decided to provide 200 women with a six-month supply of feminine hygiene products and prenatal vitamins.
Yet this project represented something much bigger than 200 boxes of aid: an impactful and meaningful message that Spirit of America, empowered by thousands of Americans, proudly and willfully invests in the well-being of Syrian women.
With the supplies distributed and a hectic day at the Diban Health Clinic coming to a close, a representative from the Women’s Council remarked to one of the American soldiers:
“Thank you, Spirit of America, for doing this for the women of Deir ez-Zor; this is the first time we’ve ever been able to do anything just for women.”
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