Marc Nelson Charcoal and Watercolor 2016
Today we remember the protest of March 15, 2011 in Damascus. Joining what had already been dubbed the Arab Spring, Syrian protesters took to the streets to demand governmental reform and the release of prisoners. Six years of civil war, chaos, and destruction, and there is still no reform.
When we saw the security forces open fire on the crowd that day, we knew it was bad. But which of us realized the future that lay ahead for this country? Who among us knew the suffering children not yet born would endure? Could we have predicted six years of civil war with no relief in sight? And most alarmingly, how could we possibly have known our own country would turn our backs on those most in need, those seeking refuge?
The Syrian Civil Defense, more widely known simply as the White Helmets, are the best hope for Syrian civilians. They are not military or militia. They do not defend homes with weapons, nor do they sit in offices in far off lands debating the fate of others. They are the heroes.
They may consider themselves unarmed volunteer rescuers, but what they are is something bigger than heroes. They’re angels. They are hope. They have saved over 78,500 lives after attacks. More than 150 have lost their lives in the process.
Last year, a middle school art teacher in Kewanee, Illinois challenged his students to draw portraits of people who performed acts of kindness “under the radar.” Marc Nelson used the White Helmets as examples for his students, and has several sketches of them in action.
I love the bright, white helmets in the drawing. They seem to cut through the fog of rubble and chaos behind them and shine as beacons of hope. The boy’s face is grey and ashen. The face of the man that’s holding him is happy to pass him over to the rescuer. But the boy, the far off look of his eyes is almost eerie, lost. This is a child who has probably spent half of his short life with the hum of airstrikes looming. Gunfire just a part of the soundtrack to his everyday life.
One has to wonder, have we lost them? Have we lost them all? A whole generation that knows nothing but violence. Their parents protested in peace to have the freedoms that we in America enjoy. They once envied our way of life of religious freedom, tolerance for all ethnicities. Now do we show them our true colors? Do we tell them they are not entitled to the rights we enjoy?
Each time we take to the streets to protest, let us remember we have not only that freedom. We also have the freedom to go to bed without the fear of bombs falling on our heads. We have the freedom to buy food or walk across the street without the fear of gunshots killing our children. We have the freedom to live in a land where all peoples are represented in our government. We are free. I hope that some day the Syrians will be too.
To read more about the White Helmets, click here:White Helmets
To see more work by Mr. Nelson, click here Marc Nelson