In the war-torn Middle East, a special group of heroes is working tirelessly to rescue those who are negatively affected by opposition areas.

Syria Civil Defense — also known as the White Helmets — consists of around 3,000 volunteers who put their lives on the line to keep civilians safe from perilous attacks and harmful destruction.

Khaled Khatib and Mounir Mustafa, two White Helmet volunteers, attended Mashable‘s 2017 Social Good Summit on Sunday to speak with actress and UNDP Goodwill Ambassador Connie Britton about the group’s mission.

“The reason the White Helmets was necessary is because once the war started in Syria, the government’s institutions — which were there to rescue people and put out fires and provide the services that we provide now — were only allowed to operate in areas that were government-controlled,” Mustafa explained.

It got to a point where the institutions that saved lives were only supporting one political side, so the White Helmets vowed to rescue all human lives, regardless of their personal beliefs or loyalties.

Since it was founded in 2013, the White Helmets have lost nearly 200 members amid rescue attempts, but have saved more than 99,000 people.

The group also inspired an insightful, Oscar-winning documentary on Netflix last year and received a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.

Khatib — who shot a lot of the documentary footage that gave outsiders an inside look into the devistating realities facing Syrians on a daily basis — is only 22 years old. The youngest members of the White helmets are about 18 and 19.

He told Britton he decided to become a White Helmet at such a young age after experiencing destruction in his neighborhood and witnessing the response first-hand.

“There was one point where there was a massacre that happened in my neighborhood and the airstrikes were immediately covered by journalists,” he said. “I saw journalists coming to the scene with their cameras, and that same night on TV I saw what we had seen in our neighborhood.” 

Khatib felt those people were doing heroic work, and it inspired him to get out on the front lines himself and document his journey. 

And just as the White Helmets are inclusive in their rescue missions, they’re open to all members joining their group — including women.

“For us, as Syrians, we saw a really important role that women play and that role needed to be highlighted more,” Khatib explained.

“When bombs fall on neighborhoods, those bombs don’t differentiate between children and women and men,” Mustafa added. “We though it was really important for women to be a part of this rescue work, and to feel the same beautiful feeling that we feel when we rescue people’s lives.”

Since dedicating themselves to saving others, the men explained their lives have changed immensely.

“Before I joined the White Helmets I used to think about my studies and my favorite football and soccer teams, but now I have much bigger responsibilities,” Khatib said. “I’m always thinking about the work that we do together to save people.”

“The mere way that a human body reacts to saving a human life and human soul changes you forever,”  Mustafa added. “I am very very proud of the work that I do.”

Going forward, the group hopes their actions will continue to inspire others enough to share their own acts of goodwill in solidarity.

“What we wanted was to show Syrian people and people all around the world that there’s always a glimmer of hope and people who want to do good,” Mustafa said.

About Social Good Summit

The intersection of technology and new media has redefined our understanding of human progress. In the midst of this rapidly changing world, the Social Good Summit focuses on where we’re headed. Held annually during the United Nations General Assembly week, the Summit unites a lively community of global citizens and progressive thought leaders around a common theme: #2030NOW. A dynamic exploration of the world we want to live in by 2030, the Social Good Summit will focus on how we can unlock technology’s potential to make the world a better place.

This year’s summit is brought to you by Mashable, the United Nations Foundation, the United Nations Development Programme, and the 92nd Street Y. For complete event details, visit socialgoodsummit.com.

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