Rola Hallam - How CanDo Is Responding to the Health Care Crisis in Syria - Extended Interview

Extended - July 25, 2017 - Rola Hallam 07/25/2017 Views: 21,754

Dr. Rola Hallam discusses the Syrian government's decimation of medical facilities and explains how her company CanDo uses crowdsourcing to rebuild the country's health care. (9:06)

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Please welcome founder and CEOof CanDo, Dr. Rola Hallam.

-♪ -(cheering and applause)

Welcome to the show.

Hi. Thank you for inviting me.

Um, your story is one

that is gripping, painful, andhopeful all at the same time.

-You are a physicianwho's based in London. -Mm-hmm.

You've been involvedin global health care for...

-I think it's about 14 yearsnow. -Mm-hmm.

And you actually spent partof your childhood

-growing up in Syria.-Yeah.

When you look at the...

the civil warthat's taking place there now,

from a health care pointof view,

-from an aid-giver's pointof view, -Mm-hmm.

what is the situation?

Sure. So, before that, if I may,

I think one of the things thathas done the Syria, um, crisis

such a-a disfavoris calling it a civil war.

Because, actually,this isn't half the population

-killing the other half.-Right.

What we have isa state-sponsored murder

and oppression that wasin response to people going out

on the street callingfor freedom and dignity.

-And so it's actually a waron civilians. -Right.

And it's a waron civilian structures.

And it's had, at its heart,the targeting of doctors

and aid workers and health care.

And you guys knowall about presidents trying

-to destroy health care, right?-(chuckling)

I mean, it's... You-you...

-It's a big problem.-Yeah, I mean, for-for Syrians,

they would wishit would be just in the Senate

-and people arguing about it,you know? -Absolutely.

In-in Syria,you've had a situation

where Bashar al-Assadhas been shown repeatedly

to indiscriminately attackmedical facilities.

-Yeah.-What does that do?

And what do you thinkthe purpose of those attacks

-have been?-Mm-hmm. Well, I mean,

Physicians for Human Rightshave been documenting this

since the beginningof-of the war in 2011.

They've documentednearly 500 attacks

on-on health...on health care facilities.

Some of them are indiscriminate,but, actually, they say

that this has been partof a systemic, um,

attack on health careand-and murder

and tortureof-of health care workers--

so actually using itas a weapon of war.

-And it's decimatedour health care system. -Right.

And that basically meansthat we've got children

who are dyingfrom preventable diseases

like pneumoniaor treatable diseases.

It's women who are now givingbirth without health care,

um, attendants. It meanswe don't have the anesthesia

that we needto-to perform surgery.

And, you know what, this is,like, such a big problem

for all of us, right. This isn'tjust a problem for Syria.

And by that I mean that thetargeting of health care work

is... like-like,this is protected

-by international norms, right?-Uh-huh.

And-and when we allow thatto occur,

then, actually, when it breaksfor one, it breaks for all.

Does that meanthat your health care facilities

will now be a legitimate targetin any war

-that you may be involved in?-Right.

Like, it's a really dangerousprecedent to set, right?

Um, and the fact that it'sdestroying our health care means

that we're going to becomelike Liberia and Sierra Leone.

We're going to becomeexporters of disease.

And-and virusesdon't know borders, right?

It-it ends up being a problemthat affects the world

-when it could have been stoppedin one place. -Absolutely.

-When you returned in 2011...-Mm. went back to Syriaand this was when

-the crisis was kick off.-Yeah.

And you-you helped.

-You know, you turned a houseinto an aid depot. -Mm.

And you were going to helpwith people donating blood,

-and-and you realized thatthat wasn't enough. -Mm-hmm.

Why wasn't it enough and whatdid you then decide the do?

Right, so I think,in every crisis,

the first responders are thepeople who are affected, right?

-It's the affected community.-Mm-hmm.

And so, my familylike many others,

turned our housesinto warehouses

that we could distributethis aid from.

But then, as the crisis grew,

and it engulfedthe whole country,

it sure became apparent,

like, these little effortswere-were no longer sufficient.

So we coalesced, and we startedto form new charities.

Um, and actually,it's the local humanitarians,

it's the local doctors,nurses and aid workers

that do the majorityof the aid work in Syria.

-Right.-Um, so, um,

a group called"Local to Global" said

that 75% of the humanitarianwork in Syria is being done

-by Syrian charities, right?-Which...

75%. Like,people don't know that, right?

You think of the United Nations.

I mean, that's amazing.

-And the big charities.-But you wish

that the outside would help,as well, but I mean,

that is an amazing statwhen you think about it.

Well, it's amazing,but what's really more amazing,

but in a very bad way,is the fact

that we get lessthan one percent

of the humanitarian aid budget.


-Yeah, I know.Look at your face. -Wow.

I know. I know.

You would think for a crisisthat affects the world,

more would be done, more peoplewould be getting involved.

Um, you're working to help now.

-You've started, um,working to rebuild... -Mm-hmm.

...some of the hospitalsthat have been destroyed.

I remember reading and seeingone of the stories was,

-a children's hospitalthat was attacked. -Yes.

You were involvedin rebuilding that.

How did you go about that?Where do you even start?

Um, you start with a weekendof nearly pulling your hair out

and feeling really frustratedand angry

that this is still happening.

Because that weekendin Eastern Aleppo,

-five hospitals were bombed outof existence that weekend. -Wow.

Includingthe children's hospital.

Imagine, it had been bombedsix times before.

A children's hospital, and...

-So this was the seventh timeit was bombed? -Yeah.

And so, I was...I was so livid and furious.

We had been spendingthe last few years rebuilding...

And built six... helped to buildsix hospitals in Syria.

And so, I wanted to do something

that everyone elsecould get behind,

'cause I knew that there wereso many people

-who were feelingthis frustration. -Yeah.

And that was howthe people's convoy idea came.

Um, we planned,um, to crowdfund,

to rebuildan entire children's hospital,

and we wanted to do itin the week before Christmas,

in ten days, and we wantedto take the whole equipment

for the hospital across...from London across to Europe

to Syria, and we did that.

-5,000 peoplefrom around the world. -Wow.

(cheering, applause)

-Wow. -It wasn' wasn't... it wasn't just me.

You know, this was, like,

literallya global collective effort.

It was, um, 30 organizationsthat came together

to endorse the campaign,

and it was 5,000 peoplefrom ten countries,

-Mm-hmm.-raised $320,000 in 12 days.

Um, enough to rebuildthe hospital

and keep it goingfor six months.

Um, it just... it just goesto show how much we can achieve

when we... when we...when we work together

and when we can channelthese emotions that we have

-in a positive, proactive way.-If people are looking

to do that--I know people feel hamstrung.

They go: We've talkedto our politicians,

it doesn't seem likethere is going to be much

in the way of action-- you know,

whether it be the U.S. andRussia agreeing into a ceasefire

or not a ceasefire--what is the thing

that people can doto help on the ground,

if they are not connectedto Syria directly like you are.

Sure. I mean, you know,like, at CanDo we believe

people arethe biggest superpower,

um, and we just need to havea way in which we can harness

that collective energyand resources,

and that's whywe're using crowdfunding,

and we've just set upa crowdfunding platform,

the first one to providehumanitarian aid in war zones.

Um, and we're callingall of you,

the engaged citizensof the world,

the global humanitarians,and through this platform

we're gonna connect you to localhumanitarian organizations

working in war zones, um,so that you guys can know

exactly whereyour money is going

and you can trustthat it's going

to these trusted, impactfullocal humanitarian organizations

so that we can togetherprovide this health care

and save many more lives.

Um, and I thinkthat's the way to do it,

because, um, the big NGO'sare so bureaucratic

-Right.-and so slow to move,

and they make us feelreally detached from the issues,

right, and it feels reallydisengaging and disempowering

to just hand your money overand you've no idea

-where it goes. -And thiswhere you can directly connect.

Absolutely.And you can... this way,

you can connect,but you can also choose

which projectyou want to support.

So, you know, the beautyof local humanitarians

is they know the communitiesreally, really well,

and they know what's neededand how to get it there,

and they're creative,because they're the ones

who are there in the most need.

So, to give you an example,there's a ceasefire

across much of Syria,but there are still--

and people don't know this--about a million people

who are besieged-- literally,like a medieval siege tactic,

being slowly starved to death.

And so besieged Damascusis one of these areas

where there'sabout 400,000 people

being slowly starved to death.

So one of our local partnershas been working

over the last couple of yearsto grow mushrooms,

which we callthe "meat of the poor."

And so they've been workingto see if they can...

-they can get themto germinate and grow. -Wow.

And they've managed to do that,so one of the campaigns

we're currently running,um, for--

imagine, just less than $15,000is gonna feed 800 people,

-in a sustainable way.-Right.

They're gonna teach them howto grow their own mushrooms,

so that they can feed themselves

when there is no otherfresh food source there.

So, they really have gotthat ability

to provide somethingreally effective

and really efficient, um,and I think that's the way

that we can all make adifference to people in crisis.

Well, thank youfor sharing that with us.

-Thank you so much for beingon the show. -Thank you.

For more information aboutDr. Hallam's work in Syria,

go to

Dr. Rola Hallam, everybody.

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