Every day is a new adventure for Rasha, an employee of the UN Humanitarian Air Service UNHAS

Although she has been “around planes for so long” due to her personal and family history, Rasha admits that she is still emotional whenever she watches a plane take off.

“It never becomes ordinary to be here,” she said.

She is preparing for a new flight to Damascus.

Like Mother like daughter

Rasha joined the UNHAS team of the World Food Program (PAM) as an aviation assistant at Qamishli airport in northeastern Syria early last year. Previously, she had worked for seven years in commercial aviation.

The young woman’s passion for airports dates back to her childhood.

“My mother worked at the same airport for 35 years. I remember her very well wearing her silver uniform with a white blouse and a silky burgundy scarf neatly tied around her neck, ”she recalls.

But what fascinated Rasha the most was her mother’s dedication.

“Qamishli is not a luxurious airport as it lacks comfort and catering facilities, so it can be difficult to miss your flight and have to stay overnight here. My mom unconditionally and helped everyone she met to the best of her ability, and I wanted to be her someday, ”she said.

I'm getting ready for another flight to Damascus.

PAM / Elie Rasho

I’m getting ready for another flight to Damascus.

A safer and faster journey

Over the years of crisis in Syria, the lines of conflict have shifted dramatically, making the roads connecting Damascus to the two northern governorates, Qamishli and Aleppo, dangerous to use.

The sky has become the most viable way for United Nations personnel and aid workers to travel between the capital and the north of the country.

And with domestic airlines even more disrupted by the Covid pandemic, the 2020 launch of UNHAS in Syria has provided a crucial connection between the staff and the people they serve, transforming a grueling 16-hour commute, in an hour of flight.

“Without UNHAS, humanitarian workers would have faced many challenges in accessing families in need,” said Rasha.

Today, UNHAS in Syria serves 39 different humanitarian organizations, not just UN agencies.

Even with strictly followed COVID-19 precautions, the air service carries an average of 350 passengers on its flights between Damascus, Aleppo and Qamishli.

Humanitarian needs across Syria have reached unprecedented levels last year, making it more important than ever for staff to quickly and safely reach those in urgent need of assistance.

Rasha works closely with colleagues visiting Damascus.

PAM / Manal Alkalaji

Rasha works closely with colleagues visiting Damascus.

A “humanitarian core”

At first, Rasha was mostly impressed with the high standards, discipline and punctuality of the airline, but then she found deeper meaning in it all.

“One day my passengers were all on board for a flight to Damascus and we were about to close the boarding gate when a man from another aid organization rushed in with his daughter in need. urgent medical evacuation to Damascus, ”she says.

When Rasha contacted the management of UNHAS, he was immediately advised to delay the flight until the man had finalized the necessary documents.

“My supervisor told me, ‘Our existence is to serve these people, so our doors cannot be closed to them.’ It was then that I realized the humanitarian heart of my work and it moved me deeply, ”said the employee.

United in action

In addition to people, UNHAS also transports life-saving medical assistance.

In 2021, the airline transported essential medical equipment, including Covid-19 vaccines and mobility aids for people with disabilities.

“It was thanks to UNHAS that UN staff in Qamishli and their dependents were vaccinated, as vaccines and specialist medical staff had to be transported from Damascus,” Rasha says proudly.

She knows her job will be more difficult in the months to come, with the onset of winter, but she recognizes the impact of her work every day, as colleagues and families are now closer than ever.

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