A natural leader and problem solver, Dr. Amani Ballour was only 29 when her colleagues elected her to oversee the Cave in 2016. As director, Dr. Amani contended with the grave realities specific to running a hospital under siege conditions: finding solutions to equipment and medicine shortages; protecting the structure itself by adding aboveground and underground fortifications; and, above all, ensuring the safety of patients and staff. Meanwhile, she continued to work as a pediatrician, tending to the constant stream of sick and injured children who needed treatment. She also assisted in surgery.

Dr. Amani is a compassionate and reassuring figure to the infants and children she treats, and to their parents. She fights back against the patriarchal conservatism that designates women as weak and inferior to men, and is staunchly committed to standing up for women’s rights to live and work as they choose. She lives her beliefs, too, whether she’s encouraging little girls to see themselves as important and capable, or offering jobs to civilian women who need a means of income.

Dr. Amani was born and raised in Eastern Al Ghouta and completed her general medical studies at the University of Damascus in 2012. She began studying for her specialty in pediatrics but abandoned her studies to help the people of Al Ghouta, who were coming under attack from the Assad regime. She began treating children — particularly those who were injured under bombardment in remote areas of the province — in emergency rooms. She began working at the Cave in 2013.

The 2013 chemical attack on Al Ghouta altered Dr. Amani’s life and perspective as she worked in rescue and relief operations. She kept detailed journals about the attack and the days that followed, and wrote and blogged about the attack’s impact on people and the environment. She was forcibly displaced to northern Syria in 2018 and currently lives in Turkey.