RIYADH: With camping season in full swing across the Kingdom many Saudi families are taking the opportunity to engage in fun COVID-friendly activities.
Desert camping (or kashtas, as they’re colloquially known), hiking trips, and other outdoorsy activities are taking place all over the country.
However, due to the nature of these activities, the likelihood of accidents tends to increase, especially among first-timers or otherwise inexperienced outdoorsmen.
Fortunately, a group of dedicated volunteers is working tirelessly to ensure the safety of the Kingdom’s budding outdoor enthusiasts, allowing virtually anyone to dabble in those types of activities without fear.
Founded in 2017, the Barq (Arabic for “lightning”) Rescue Team is Saudi Arabia’s first accredited volunteer rescue team. Certified by the Saudi Civil Defense and the Ministry of Interior, the group is a member of both the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation and the UN’s International Association for Voluntary Efforts.
Barq’s team leader, Talal Abdulghani, told Arab News that the team started off as an unofficial group of four-wheel drive vehicle owners who saw an opportunity to utilize their equipment for the greater good.
“We first had the idea to create the team during the 2017 flooding in Jeddah,” Abdulghani said. “Those of us with suitable cars that were fitted with off-roading equipment found ourselves able to help out, and we decided to make it an official team.”
What started off as a small group of volunteers quickly gained traction. Today, Barq has more than 950 volunteers spread out across the Kingdom, with members assisting stranded drivers all over the Gulf countries. And at least 120 of those members are women.
“Every member of the team joined us out of passion and the desire to help others,” Abdulghani said, “We’re not getting paid, nor do we charge for our services, and all of us have day jobs. We volunteer out of a sense of duty to our country and community.”
Abdulghani told Arab News that one or two deaths tend to occur every month out in the desert, especially in remote locations or due to a lack of experience. Anyone stranded in the desert can call the 24-hour hotline to receive assistance from one of their team members, who will arrive on the site to help if they need to or can offer help over the phone or via WhatsApp.
“Considering the number of calls we get every day, sometimes we find it better to try to assist over the phone instead of heading to a location ourselves,” said Abdulghani. “That way, instead of just showing up and taking over, we give people a chance to learn from their mistakes with our guidance and prevent similar incidents in the future.”
However, Barq’s team is not only comprised of drivers; Abdulghani says that anyone can join up, provided they have something to offer.
“We have members who are doctors and paramedics, who can offer first aid in case we need to rescue someone who is injured, and mechanics who are able to fix cars that have broken down or stalled, or been damaged. We also have photographers, lawyers and so on,” he said.
Abdulghani said an interesting side effect of their work was that many of those rescued have been inspired to join the team themselves.
One of those people is Samaher Al-Qwasmi, who said: “I was taking a trip with my mother and brother to Khaleej Salman beach, and I ended up driving a little too close to the water. Eventually, I found myself stuck because it was so muddy, and I could feel the car sinking down into the mud,” she said.
Not knowing what to do, and with poor phone service, she contacted her uncle, who directed her to call Barq.
“They asked me a lot of questions about how many people we were, what our location was, whether or not we had food, and so on. They were very thorough about making sure we were safe, and that in turn made me feel safer,” she said.
The team maintained contact until they were able to send someone to rescue them, sending four cars to help pull her vehicle out of the mud. Their efforts are something Al-Qwasmi appreciates so much more now that she has an idea of exactly how much work a rescue operation entails.
“There are so many people in the same situation at the same time. Just looking at our WhatsApp group now, there are 10 or more cases a day, and some rescues may require a lot of work,” she said.
“I joined because it’s something nice to do for the community. It feels good to give back, to be able to do good but also to help people become more aware of the existence of teams like ours,” she said. “We’re like one family; I don’t think anyone is doing this for the sake of the money or anything like that. Apart from the rescues, we also have events where we get together as a team and just hang out.”
Apart from their rescue operations, Barq also does community service work. Last May, Barq launched a campaign to distribute food and other essential items to quarantine sites across the Makkah region and the Eastern Province, helping residents stuck at home while also helping to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Barq provides rescue and safety training to all its recruits, including basic first aid, in addition to the several awareness campaigns they provide to the public on a regular basis.
Those interested in joining up as volunteers can register on the team’s website, https://barqrescue.org/