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Cordaid NL
Humanitarian Aid

Container of Hope in Homs

1,100 people have been treated and operated in the ‘hospitainer’ in war torn Homs (Syria) over the last four months. This container converted into a mobile operating room, shipped from Antwerp and co-financed by Cordaid, is the only place in the heavily hit city where people can get free medical care. All other hospitals in Homs, apart from two small and expensive private clinics, are bombed or burned.

Earlier in 2013, Cordaid funded the distribution of stoves and blankets to refugees in the mountainous and cold west of the country. These emergency relief projects are carried out by the Greek Orthodox Church in Syria. “In Homs we help 3 to 4 thousand families. In the mountains we go to the villages where the situation is really bad and we reach hundreds of families,” says Yvette Shamier, a Syrian who lives in Holland but goes to her war torn country whenever she can. In Homs and further to the west she helps the Greek Orthodox Church to implement Cordaid´s relief projects.

“Many Christians who flee the city give their house keys to the church to provide shelter for fellow citizens in need.”

Starving Town

Shamier : “Some 180.000 people have fled from the ancient Christian inner city, the part of Homs that has been hit hardest. Only 65 Christians still live in the besieged and starving old city. We know this because the churches keep daily lists of the number casualties and refugees. Most refugees go to family in safer neighborhoods in Homs. Or they go to their native village. Those who have nowhere to go seek support from the church. The Greek Orthodox Church in Homs takes care of Christians as well as Muslims and other Syrians.”

Yvette Shamier on the left. The man in the middle is one of the victims that received blankets and a stove. This man is in a wheelchair and was saved by his wife.

“There is hardly anything left in the besieged old city. People have no food, no shelter. We give food aid and arrange housing for refugees, often in in vacant apartments. Many Christians who flee the city give their house keys to the church to provide shelter for fellow citizens in need.”


Cordaid started working with the Greek Orthodox church in Syria a year ago. Shamier: “It started with the distribution of stove fuel in villages like Um Sharshouh and Douer. In many villages in the Christian valleys Al Qaeda affiliated jihadists like Jabat Al Nusra and ISIS wreaked havoc. If they come residents know they risk to be either shot or beheaded. Cordaid´s support has helped us to distribute fuel, blankets and heaters to hundreds of families who have survived violence in this region.”

The hospitainer on its way to Homs from Antwerp.

“Each family we can help is a victory”, says Shamier. “There was a woman who brought her family to safety when Al Nusra attacked their village. She pushed her husband, who is in a wheelchair, out of the back of the house. She took her 94- year-old mother in law and a mentally disabled son with her. They survived thanks to her. If you can help these refugees, if only a little, with blankets and a heater, this gives great satisfaction. Even though you’d like to do much more.”

24 rooms for 1,5 million people

Cordaid has also co-financed the ‘hospitainer’ which has been operational in Homs for four months now in Homs, in a quarter outside the besieged town. This container converted into a mobile operating room, made in Holland, came in Homs at the demand of the church. Shamier : “We have worked with the governorate of Homs. It was installed in a location that is accessible to everyone.”

“The six major public hospitals in Homs have been destroyed by the rebels. In a city of one and a half million people there were only two small private clinics left, with some 24 rooms. They are much too expensive for ordinary citizens. The church pays many operations for the sick and wounded, but the costs in these two private hospitals ran too high. Someone of the Greek Catholic monastery of St James the Mutilated in Qara, then took the initiative to get a hospitainer in Homs, together with Cordaid and other parties.”

 “The best doctors in Homs are working as a team there. Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Christians… they all work together.”

Student flat becomes hospital

“And with the governorate, I have arranged that a severely damaged student flat will be converted into a hospital where patients from treated or operated in the hospitainer can be referred to in the future. Now they are operated, but can go nowhere to recover. The city is also working to turn health centers into emergency hospitals.”

The hospitainer is a great success. Shamier: “The best doctors in Homs are working as a team there. Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Christians… they all work together. In just four months, there have operated and treated 1,100 people. And that while most of the medical equipment has not even arrived yet.”

“To Homs , to Homs!”

However grim the situation in Syria might be, Shamier, who lives in the Netherlands since 1999, but continues to go to her homeland even during the war, is still hopeful about the future. “Two years ago it was unthinkable that I could take the bus from Damascus to Homs. Recently, when I heard the bus boy shout ‘to Homs , Homs’ in the bus station of Damascus, which was still in ruins shortly before, I got tears in my eyes. I took the bus and arrived a few hours later, despite the check points and the snipers.”

“And look at those doctors of different faiths working together in the hospitainer. Look at the Sunnis fleeing from Aleppo and seeking protection at the Alawis in the mountains of Tartous. This gives me hope, because it means that the basis for a viable Syria is still there.”

Want to know more?

See how the hospitainer was shipped from Antwerp (Youtube).

In this movie you see the mobile operating room use in Homs. (Youtube)