An activist doctor in Syria has a hero he calls “Sister Nanique.” The Catholic nun stockpiles medical supplies to help treat those wounded in the resistance. Here he tells the story of her recent dangerous mission to Homs.
DAMASCUS, Syria (WOMENSENEWS) — Dr. Fadi has a hero.
He calls her “Sister Nanique” and her name, like his, is changed to protect their safety.
Fadi, an activist doctor, says Sister Nanique has a stash of clean syringes, tetanus injections, surgical tools, serums, bags for collecting blood donations and lots of other medical supplies that have become almost impossible to obtain since the eruption of the Syrian revolution.
She stores them in a small room next to her monastery cell, a place that some in the nation’s underground network of doctors call the “sister’s pharmacy.” These doctors consider that room a key supply source for their work in such devastated places as the city of Homs. A United Nations committee arrived Monday in Syria to monitor a U.N.-brokered ceasefire that some opposition activists said had broken down.
Sister Nanique is a Catholic nun who realized, early on, the vital importance of medication to people wounded since the outbreak of anti-regime protests last March.
She would be in big trouble if caught by her church; in even greater trouble if caught by security forces that have waged a violent campaign to crush dissent and punish anyone helping the opposition.
The government has shelled and raided protest hubs for months, sparking a humanitarian crisis and the flight of thousands of refugees across borders laced with land mines.
More than 12,000 lives have been lost in the bloodshed, according to the watchdog Syrian Network for Human Rights.
There are no hard and fast figures but an estimated 2,000 people have died due to inadequate medical care. Many have died on the perilous road to hospitals in bordering Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
The leaderships of Christian sects in Syria–from the Catholics, to the Orthodox, to the Syriac Orthodox–have all shied away from endorsing the popular uprising or have shown signs of sympathizing with the regime.
But many individual Christians in Syria, such as Sister Nanique, oppose their church’s stance and support the revolution.
Fadi says that when the central city of Homs was being shelled by the army last month, civilians were dying for a bag of blood, and volunteer doctors were unable to remove the bullets from victims’ bodies because they did not have enough medical tools.
Supplies quickly ran out due to the blockade. Some activists managed to enter the city to help supply ad-hoc clinics in the basements of residential buildings. Many died under sniper fire, according to reports by the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
“Sister Nanique decided to go to Baba Amr when it was under fire, which meant practical suicide,” Fadi says, referring to one of the most devastated parts of Homs. “Getting to Homs was dangerous, let alone Baba Amr. It was the most violently bombarded region in Homs and was surrounded by the army.”
Fadi says he tried to discourage Sister Nanique from going to Baba Amr.
“I could not get her to change her mind, although she was fully aware of the hazard of her mission. There was only one thing she could think of: the fact that more and more people will die if she did not get there and give them the right medication.”
The nun’s religious attire, or habit, helped her dodge suspicion, Fadi says. “She filled her purse with hundreds of necessary injection needles and empty blood bags which allow people to donate blood to the wounded victims. She then called a fellow nun at a church in Homs, and she headed out to Baba Amr in a church car.”
Fadi says that for two days he lost touch with Sister Nanique because mobile and land lines to Homs had been severed by authorities.
“And then out of nowhere, the phone rang. It was Sister Nanique returning to Damascus after delivering her supplies to Baba Amr. When I saw her, I could read in her face all the suffering and devastation that she saw there. But she made no comment about what she had done, and she did not consider it a heroic act. She just kept on saying that God was the one to protect her.”
Fadi says that Sister Nanique and many other nuns also are providing food and material aid to families who were forced out of their homes or whose houses were destroyed by the shelling.
Many in the opposition believe that the church would like to give open medical assistance to the wounded, but would rather avoid any confrontation with the security authorities. But churches are providing help in the form of nutrition, clothing and shelter.
Sister Nanique feels that is not enough, Fadi says. Hundreds of lives are at stake for lack of medicine or blood transfusion, and hundreds risk losing their limbs for lack of tetanus injections or infection syringes.
That’s why Sister Nanique is doing what she does; because she believes medical assistance is more important than food right now for survival.
The writer is a Syrian who is adopting a pseudonym for personal-safety reasons.