The Syrian pediatrician and the underground hospital

The Syrian pediatrician and the underground hospital

The underground hospital where Dr. Amani Ballour saved the lives of hundreds of Syrian children is called “the Cave”.


Syrian pediatrician Amani Ballour

” Human rights and personal dignity are not a luxury in peacetime. Dr. Amani Ballour is a shining example of the empathy, virtue and honor that can flourish even in the worst of circumstances: in the midst of war and suffering. “.
With these words, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejčinović Burić awarded Amani Ballour the Raoul Wallenberg 2020 prize.

In the aftermath of her medical degree, Amani Ballour began assisting injured children as a volunteer. A few years later (to be precise from 2012 to 2018) she was the head of an underground hospital , renamed ” the Cave “, in eastern Ghouta, a few kilometers from Damascus . 

By coordinating a team of a hundred people and putting her personal safety at risk on multiple occasions, the young pediatrician has helped save thousands of lives. She now lives as a refugee in Turkey , but continues to participate in a fund that supports women leaders and health workers in war zones.

The documentary The Cave

This story has also become a documentary, entitled The Cave , produced and distributed by National Geographic and directed by Feras Fayyad , already known for the award-winning Last Men In Aleppo (2017).

The film ended up on the shortlist for the 2020 Oscars in the Documentary category, along with Honeyland (the first North Macedonian film to also compete for Best Foreign Film), American Factory, The Edge of Democracy and For Sama.

And, against all odds, the director (also of Syrian nationality) will be able to take part in the Night of the Oscars : the visa to enter the US was granted him in extremis, after several setbacks. 

What is the Raoul Wallenberg Prize

The Amani Ballour awards ceremony took place at the Council of Europe on January 17, 2020 and was followed by the screening of The Cave.

This is not just any date, but the 75th anniversary of the arrest in Budapest of Raoul Wallenberg , a Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Jews during World War II. One of his precious stratagem remained famous, the Schutzpass , a document that testified to close family or business ties with Sweden and thus exempted the holder from anti-Semitic laws . 

The award in his honor has been established since 2012 by the Council of Europe together with the Swedish government and the Hungarian Parliament. It is awarded every two years to individuals, groups or organizations that have distinguished themselves in the field of human rights and provides for a cash award of 10 thousand euros.

In 2014 the winner was the Turkish director Elmas Arus , followed in 2016 by the Greek association Agalià and, in 2018, by the European Center for Roma Rights .

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