Verband Deutsch-Syrischer Hilfsvereine e.V. (in English, the Union of German Syrian Associations)
Since 2013, the organisation, known as the VDSH, has been an umbrella for 23 organisations across Germany. Most members are headed by first and second generation German-Syrian citizens. Seven member organisations are managed by Syrians who fled their homeland after 2011.
VDSH's main goal is two-fold: To assist in the integration, inclusion and participation of Syrians in Germany and to strengthen the Syrian diaspora and assist them in providing development cooperation in Syria and in neighbouring countries.
Liaising and expertise: VDSH is a professional partner working between Syrian diaspora organisations and political decision makers. Apart from providing expert advice and advocacy, VDSH specialises in the professionalization of civil society organisations.
Fundraising: Consulting and supporting the acquisition of funding.
Internal and external communications: Coordinating exchange amongst member organisations, managing information, assisting in public relations.
Representation and networking: Advocating and representing member interests on the national level, networking with relevant stakeholders, engaging in committee work.
Capacity building: Providing advanced training, consultation, coaching and assistance in coordinating activities.
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Germany’s VDSH member organisations, with partners in Syria, have conducted agricultural projects in besieged and starving Ghouta, renovated, re-built and run schools, pre-schools and orphanages, supplied and run hospitals as well as initiated drinking water projects, vocational training for medical staff and midwives, medical first-aid training for laypersons and humanitarian aid of all kinds in besieged areas. They have also implemented community-based projects and trauma training for social workers and medical staff.
One of their German-based NGOs, Alkawakibi, was founded in Berlin in 2012 by oral surgeon, Bassel Alsaeed.
While the NGO generally promotes democracy and human rights, it specifically initiated a medical project to treat the high number of patients with facial defects resulting from the conflict.
In cooperation with the German-Syrian Association for the Promotion of Freedoms and Human Rights (known as the DSV in Germany), Alsaeed and his team volunteered to conduct facial reconstruction surgeries in the Turkish-Syrian border region, treating wounded people in Idlib in Syria and Reyhanli in Turkey. Apart from caring for patients, the team also trained Syrian colleagues, creating an infrastructure for the treatment and aftercare of patients.
“Whether patients receive reconstruction of eyes, ears or fingers,” said Dr. Alsaeed, "they simply don't know how to thank us. They become social beings again."
Dr. Alsaeed has been traveling to the Turkish border near Syria since 2015. Initially, he travelled with one technician, medicines and supplies, and in their first three or four days on site, they treated about five patients. Two months later, after they successfully treated a patient’s eyes, they were also able to train a Syrian technician who met them in Turkey.
Between that first visit four years ago and now, the project has trained four technicians and treated between 500 and 600 patients. One technician receives a salary through Alkawakibi and three others receive compensation through Syrian NGOs that work in cooperation with Alkawakibi.
"We are not grant-writing professionals," said Dr. Alsaeed. "VDSH helped with the grant application and established connections to the governmental donors."
Lilli Kardouh, Managing Director of VDSH (until 5/2021), said of the project: "It is a unique idea that also has multiplicators."
© Bassel Alsaeed
A girl treated within Alkwakibi’s project of facial reconstruction