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HOMS, Syria — Samira had always dreamed of becoming a midwife. She attended basic training sessions and spent hours practicing delivering babies with a pillow. But one night amidst the fighting in Homs, the emergency delivery scenario became a reality when her sister-in-law went into labour.

Mahdia was in her last month of pregnancy when she chose to remain at home in the Syrian village of Sultania, near Homs, instead of joining others in fleeing the ongoing fighting that has gripped Syria since 2011.

Her labour pains started one night while a battle was raging nearby, preventing her from seeking proper medical attention at the closest health centre.

But Samira, her sister-in-law, saved the day.

Samira had long aspired to learn midwifery and serve her fellow villagers. Although she was unable to pursue her dream, she did attend a UNFPA-supported training on emergency deliveries. The sessions were conducted by the Syrian Association for Health Promotion and Development in the Al-Waer suburb of Homs and attended by 80 community volunteers from different governorates in the region.

As part of the training, Samira was given a pamphlet about safe births and a clean delivery kit. The kit contained a bar of soap, a plastic sheet, a razor blade and string to cut and tie umbilical cords, as well as a cotton cloth to wrap around a baby.

“I was not sure I could actually play the role of a midwife, despite the fact that I had read that UNFPA pamphlet tens of times,” said Samira, as she later recounted the events of that fateful night.

“I was mocked by everybody when I used to practice on a big pillow, pretending it was a pregnant woman and applied the procedures described in the pamphlet. Mahdia, in particular, made fun of me, saying ‘I hope I will never be in this pillow’s position’.”

“It just happened that she went into labour without us being able to take her to the clinic,” continued Samira. “I became nervous when her water broke. However, by referring to the pamphlet and using the kit, I quickly started handling her like I did the pillow. Thankfully, we ended up with a safe and easy delivery.”

“Despite my earlier mockery, I was forced to become my sister-in-law’s first patient,” said Mahdia. "I believe the training sessions she completed alleviated the suffering of both my baby and I; without it we wouldn't be alive today."

“In fact, I was so impressed by her performance that I eventually believed that she was a real midwife,” she admitted.

“I was able to play the role of a real midwife because I forgot the fact that you were my sister-in-law,” replied Samira. “For me, you just became a big pillow.”