Axminster entrepreneur Mark's 2,600-mile aid trip to war-torn Syria

PUBLISHED: 12:00 25 January 2017 | UPDATED: 09:03 01 February 2017

Mark Hannaford

Mark Hannaford


An Axminster-based entrepreneur, who delivered medical supplies to rebuild the last children's hospital in war-ravaged Syria, has told of his experiences and what inspired the daring journey.

Mark Hannaford, an extreme medicine lecturer, provided logistical support for a People’s Convoy to travel 2,600 miles across 10 different countries in six days to get vital equipment through.

He says the mission to build the world’s first community-funded hospital not only highlighted the dire conditions faced by Syrian families, but is proof that individuals working together can make a real difference in the face of ‘the greatest humanitarian crisis of our era’.

The entrepreneur founded Across the Divide in 1997 – a logistics company based in Axminster that has facilitated raising more than £92million for charitable causes.

He went on to launch World Extreme Medicine in 2002 to support healthcare professionals working in some of the most inhospitable environments - but this is the first time he has embarked on an expedition to deliver humanitarian aid.

Mark, who lives in Beer, said: “Dr Rola Hallam - founder of the Non-Governmental Organisa-tion (NGO) CanDo - was prompted by the destruction of the last children’s hospital in Aleppo, and wanted to use the skills and experience of the UK’s extreme medicine community to deliver a children’s hospital to Syria.

“Public support was absolutely remarkable. The campaign had targeted raising £90,000 and we’ve now raised £229,000, which we can use to fund further convoys.

“We had about two weeks to organise the logistics.

“We took supplies for a children’s hospital in the back of a lorry and drove from the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, to the Syrian border, where we handed the equipment to local partners.

“We were hit by severe blizzards on the Turkish border, and it reminded us that many displaced Syrians have to live in this extreme weather without housing or adequate medical care.

“Six Syrian children died in those conditions that night.

“One of the things that spurred me on was the fact that I watch my kids walk down the road to the school bus and I do not even need to think about the possibility of them being shot or ambushed on the way.

“Everybody should have the right to know that their children are safe.

“The Government has its hands tied, but individuals working together can make a real difference on the ground in Syria.”

The war in Syria has been raging for five years and is estimated to have claimed the lives of around half-a-million civilians.

Mark said that while doctors and nurses were working for days without rest to save lives using rudimentary equipment - in unsuitable locations - their bravery alone was not enough without access to basic medicine and equipment.

He added that he would join future convoys and hoped the community-funded hospital would provide a template to be copied elsewhere.

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