Day by day, the situation in Syria is becoming increasingly dire. As Syrians continue to be wounded by government and rebel forces, the lack of medical supplies is very apparent. While in country ad-hoc efforts are underway to funnel what the Syrian government labels as contraband - blood bags, syringes, and medicine - student groups in the U.S. are working to supply these underground networks in the Middle Eastern country.
Two engineering students, Saad Rehman and Mohammed Kemal, at the University of Maryland have been assisting in a drive to collect medical supplies headed for Syria. They are members of Muslims Without Borders (MWB), the first student-based relief agency and organization. The group was founded at George Mason University in 2010, and was one of the first groups to enter Libya after the 2011 Libyan civil war broke out. MWB organized a major awareness campaign, Stand for Syria Week, at the University of Maryland College Park campus at the end of March as part of a larger effort to collect antibiotics, surgical items, medical equipment and devices, ointments and gloves, skin and wound care items, and various hygiene products.
Rehman, who is originally from Pakistan, joined MWB in February 2011, and now heads the organization’s chapter in College Park. His mother’s work as a graphic designer for Mission USA inspired him to search for a career that would allow him to help children. Once he entered college, Rehman decided that he could reach more people by becoming a civil engineer. He joined MWB because he liked the idea of using youth to move past faith to help communities around the world. “The objective is not to end anything, but to help people realize what needs to be done.”
MWB’s ability to collect a substantial amount of medical supplies may prove to be noteworthy. During a prior food donation drive Rehman’s MWB chapter collected more than 2,000lbs of food. The immediacy of the need to get medical supplies into Syria could spur a greater collection effort. “Doctors operate but don’t have basic tools or anesthetic,” Rehman recounts, “people are completely conscious during surgery.” Learning about the additional pain Syrians must go through while receiving treatment has motivated Rehman, who argues that the conflict allows him to appreciate what he has and encourages him to do much more.
According to Rehman MWB has many connections with non-profits. It receives logistics support from people on the ground in Syria, to whom MWB sends its containers of collected supplies. The organization runs a chain process, which includes collection efforts and distribution. The medical supplies MWB collects are sent to Tampa, Florida and then make their way into Syria with the help of MWB’s leader, Sufi Khan.
“Sufi Khan has a strong relationship with the team,” Rehman notes, “He creates a family environment.” That environment also attracted Mohammed Kemal to join MWB’s relief efforts in the fall of 2011. Kemal was 2 years old when he left Ethiopia for the U.S. after his family won an Electronic Diversity visa lottery. Kemal originally wanted to study architecture, but switched to structural civil engineering upon learning of the bleak job field that awaited him after graduation. The shared interested in civil engineering has led Kemal to view Rehman as a mentor.
Kemal quickly became involved in MWB, as was elected as the chapter’s Student Government Association liaison on the College Park campus. He played a significant role by securing funds for MWB’s Stand for Syria Week, in addition to assisting in the collection effort for medical supplies. “I love what [MWB] stands for,” he exclaimed, “I want to help people.” Kemal believes MWB is playing a significant role.
MWB’s medical equipment provisions could not have come at a better time after Syrian rebels gained access to material like weapons and ammunition as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other gulf states have begun pouring millions of dollars into the country each month. As the U.S coordinates Gulf states’ efforts to provide “non-lethal assistance” to the Syrian opposition, groups such as Muslims Without Borders are sending over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Kemal proudly asserts. “Someone from MWB is going to go to Syria…we need to help them out.”