Dr. Zaher Sahloul and Mayson Almisri will receive the 2020 Gandhi Peace Award.
Promoting Enduring Peace, a nonprofit group, announced the recipients in March. Sahloul is a physician and past president of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), and Almisri is a former volunteer with the White Helmets (also known as the Syria Civil Defense) who has rescued civilians caught up in Syria’s civil war.
The Connecticut-based peace advocacy organization has presented the award almost every year going back to 1960. Recipients are honored “for contributions made in the promoting of international peace and goodwill,” according to the organization’s website.
Sahloul served as president of SAMS — a U.S. network of medical professionals of Syrian descent — from 2011 to 2015. “Under his leadership, SAMS launched its first medical mission to southern Turkey in 2011 to provide care to vulnerable Syrians,” said Lobna Hassairi, a spokeswoman for SAMS.
That first mission “was the precursor to SAMS’ medical missions to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, with the participation of international medical volunteers and the incorporation of professional training and interventional/surgical services,” she said.
In 2012, SAMS responded to Syria’s humanitarian crisis by launching the “Save Syrian Lives” campaign, again under Sahloul’s leadership. The campaign helped SAMS establish offices in Syria, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
SAMS has built and rebuilt hospitals in Syria and continues to support health care facilities there and elsewhere, even as the new coronavirus poses a threat. To date, SAMS has provided more than 15.5 million medical services to those in need.
Sahloul, who earned his medical degree in Damascus, is now a pulmonary specialist in Chicago, where he is treating COVID-19 patients. He also serves as president of MedGlobal, an organization of medical volunteers who provide free health care to refugees and others in disaster zones.
Mayson Almisri, from Daraa, Syria, was the longtime head of the women’s division in southern Syria of the White Helmets, an organization that has rescued thousands of civilians from the rubble of homes destroyed by Russian and Syrian government airstrikes.
In 2018, Almisri and her husband — along with dozens of other White Helmet volunteers — were evacuated to Canada after enduring relentless shelling and bombardment. The Toronto Star reports that Almisri and her fellow evacuees are slowly rebuilding their lives, while worrying about those still in danger.
Operating in areas of Syria controlled by opposition forces, the White Helmets have been attacked by Damascus and Moscow for documenting war crimes perpetrated by both of those regimes.
Now, the new coronavirus has made the White Helmets’ work even more difficult. But a recent cease-fire has allowed White Helmet volunteers to begin disinfecting areas within Syria’s Idlib province in hopes of warding off the virus.
The U.S. government has provided over $33 million to the White Helmets since 2013, and the Trump administration sent another $4.5 million to the volunteer group in October 2019. “These heroic first responders have the most dangerous job in the world,” the State Department said in a 2019 statement.
“The United States strongly supports the work of the White Helmets,” the State Department said. “They have saved more than 114,000 lives since the conflict began, including victims of [Syrian dictator Bashar] Assad’s vicious chemical weapons attacks.”
Previous recipients of the Gandhi Peace Award include Eleanor Roosevelt, Benjamin Spock, Dorothy Day and César Chávez. Winners receive an inscribed medallion of “peace bronze,” which is recycled copper made from disarmed nuclear missile systems.