Adnan, Rami and Hussam were students at the University of Damascus four years ago.

“We were like any group of friends in university,” Adnan tells Syria Direct’s Amjad al-Muhandas. “We’d spend hours together discussing politics, music and literature.” Their shared dream? “We all wanted to complete our studies to help our families.”

Adnan and two childhood friends, Rami and Hussam, joined the protests of spring 2012. The decision would change the trajectory of their lives.

“We couldn’t remain apathetic.”

Q: Could you tell us about your life in university?

There were three of us: Rami, Hussam, and me. We were like any group of friends in university. We’d spend hours together discussing politics, music and literature. We went to the same high school, we had similar goals. We all wanted to complete our studies to help our families.

When the revolution began and the regime started killing civilians, we couldn’t remain apathetic. Our university became a dangerous place. Anyone who expressed an opinion regarding the ongoing protests or who spoke out against the regime’s criminality was in danger.

As the movement continued, our consciences forced us to join. Then there was a wave of arrests at the university. Friends would be arrested—they would just disappear. It was impossible to obtain any information about them. At this point, we all left the university.

 Students at the University of Aleppo demand the release of detainees. Photo courtesy of Creative Memory.

Q: Could you tell us about Rami? What happened to him after you all decided to drop out?

Rami studied software engineering. He was the type of person everyone loves, always smiling and joking. He was known for his strong opinions and was a consistent proponent of freedom of expression.

When the protests started, Rami began photographing them. Once the protests and marches turned into battles, Rami began reporting on military developments in southern Syria for television outlets. He spent most of his time covering battles in Daraa and Quneitra. Last year, Rami was driving to cover a battle in Sheikh Maskeen, Daraa, when his car was struck by a shoulder-fired rocket and he was killed.

Q: What about Hussam? What happened after he left university?

Hussam was studying Arabic literature. He was about to graduate when he began participating in protests against the regime in Daraa.

The regime put his name on a wanted list. In order to avoid arrest, Hssam enlisted in the FSA in Daraa.

He was killed fighting in the town of Ataman, Daraa. That was in 2015.

Q: What made you decide to quit your medical studies in your third year? What did you do afterwards?

In 2012, the regime began bombing civilians. The number of casualties grew rapidly, but at the same time, many of the doctors who treated the wounded were arrested by the regime, leaving civilians with an alarming shortage of doctors. I felt obligated to help, even if it meant ending my studies early.

Since many of the doctors had been arrested, five nurses and I began treating protesters who were injured by regime gunfire. We had limited resources, but we did what we could to provide care.

Q: Given your lack of formal education, how were you able provide medical care?

A general surgeon taught me how to perform basic operations.

Eventually I began performing surgeries on abdominal injuries. At the same time, I worked as a surgeon’s assistant on all types of operations. I remained in this role for two years.

Then I started performing more serious surgeries by myself. I progressed to observing orthopedic operations. Throughout this time, I continued to review my medical textbooks.

Q: How did your family respond when you quit university?

Of course, when I first dropped out, there was plenty of criticism from my family and friends. I constantly heard the same saying repeated, “Studies first.”

But when the airstrikes increased and the number of causalities rose with them, they changed their minds.

I wasn’t the only one to drop out once the war started. Many university students, not just young men, but young women as well, changed their paths to activism. Many have been killed and many others have left Syria.

Q: What do you see for your future?

When I decided to quit university, I couldn’t think about anything other than helping people. I was satisfied with the medical work I started doing.

What I want most for the future is for Syrians to be able to live in safety and security, for Syrians to be able to rid themselves of the Assad regime and live without daily killing and bombing.

I still hope to return to my studies, to realize my and my family’s dream and become a licensed doctor.