Lighting a candle in a starless night


Living under a war-torn sky has shaped our lives to relate to war with every single detail of it. Sometimes we felt helpless; we felt our youth slipping away. Every time we got on our feet it hit us even harder. However, despite all the struggles we had to go through, deep inside, we had that spark of hope that kept us functioning. War has taught us that life can be so swift that every time you leave home, you might not come back alive. We knew that time was more precious than wasting it weeping. We felt an overwhelming urge to do something that counts; to light a candle in a starless night.

As medical students, and future physicians, we have an ultimate goal and a firm commitment to promote healthcare delivery around the world, for all patients in-need. We have a solid determination to take a hand in helping those who are affected by the cruel war, whether physically or psychologically, all around our home country, Syria. Therefore, we started learning and researching ways to take role in the global knowledge synthesis. We decided to give it our all in order to continue to be qualified for a lifelong clinical and academic journey. We vowed to leave a trace and to never let our circumstances smash our dreams. Unfortunately, we did not have many resources to learn, we had no guidance or a mentor to help us. We only had an internet connection and our laptops and mobile phones, but we kept going.

One year later, we joined The Cochrane Collaboration1. For us, it was an escape that gave us the opportunity to do something that matters. We spent a year learning about evidence-based medicine, Cochrane systematic reviews and meta-analyses, and the basics of academic writing. Now we’re working on a systematic review in psychiatry, taking on the role as peer reviewers for some Cochrane groups and working as volunteers as part of the Cochrane EMBASE screening project. We hope that our contribution, as small as it is, will add to healthcare evidence and to healthcare decision-making. No student is too young or too uneducated to help. With some effort and proper time management everyone can make a difference, even if they lived in the darkest place on earth.


1The Cochrane Collaboration is a “is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization. It was formed to organize medical research information in a systematic way to facilitate the choices that health professionals, patients, policy makers and others face in health interventions according to the principles of evidence-based medicine” Wikipedia.

About the Authors:

Mahmoud Alkhatib, 5th year medical student in a 6-year program at Damascus University. I have been graded in the top ten students in the last four years, and have been awarded from the faculty. My interest in research has emerged in the third year, and since then I have started working with my colleagues on some projects to help make the future of our faculty. I will continue on this road since my goal is to be a good researcher who will make a change and leave his imprint.  Mahmoud may be reached at

Tarek Turk, fifth-year medical student in a six-year program at Damascus University, Syria. I have always seen myself as a clinician and a researcher, and have worked hard my entire life to achieve this goal. I believe that we were not meant to pass from this life without leaving a trace, and I decided to leave a trace in science. I have major interests in knowledge synthesis, Evidence-based healthcare, and linking medicine to artificial intelligence. Tarek may be reached at

Suhaib was born in Kamishli, Syria, and earned his bachelor’s degree in May 2015 from Illinois Institute of Technology’s Armour College of Engineering, with earlier studies at Aleppo University and Damascus University. Suhaib majored in Civil Engineering with a concentration in structural engineering. Upon graduation, he accepted a position as a project engineer working on projects throughout the state of Illinois; he lives in Springfield, Illinois. Suhaib previously worked with Jasmine Baladi Studio, an NGO that works to support Syrian children in refugee camps in Turkey. Suhaib regularly writes for the Syrian Students for a Better Future Blog.

To learn more about the Syrian Student Initiative for the Advancement of Undergraduate Research Without Borders, please contact Suhaib at

One Comment Add yours

  1. CS-Cart says:

    Thank you for your excellent article, it really helped me.

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