Daniel Burke is a man on a mission.
The 30 year-old from Wythenshawe has been fighting ISIS with the Kurdish militia in Syria for over seven months and is determined to continue to do so until the end.
Recently, however, he has been told he needs to take some time off for a while, to rest and regain his strength. So he has decided to focus more on civilian work.
He is hoping to raise £700 to help install a new water well in Nashowa, a small village in Syria.
Water supplies have now depleted in Nashowa, putting many men, women and children at severe risk, especially with the brutal summer approaching, when temperatures can hit over 50 degrees for days or even weeks.
“We need to hire the equipment to dig down, pipe up and supply the village with the water,” says Daniel.
“We will be using local businesses for supplies, so donations are injected back into the local community. We have a team of both local and international volunteers working for us.”
His initiative is dedicated to his best friend Oliver Hall, who died fighting ISIS in Raqqa last year.
“Ollie and I had the same mindset of defeating ISIS and then helping the people who have been deeply affected by their sickening crimes. We wanted to work in remote villages, where help is needed the most, but where aid cannot reach them due to safety reasons.”
Daniel joined the British Army as a paratrooper before being deployed to Helmand, Afghanistan in 2008. On his return he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after an incident that also cost him his career in the army.
After getting help from the Kathe Locke Centre in Moss Side, he decided to focus on his career in the construction industry.
“I made a rather comfortable life for myself. I moved out into the countryside with my girlfriend and had a lovely house and a very good job. But my mind couldn’t rest knowing what was happening over there.”
Daniel had several contacts in the Middle East who were sending him pictures and stories which made him eager to want to help. He applied to volunteer in early 2015/16 but cancelled due to his family severely criticising his decision and his girlfriend persuading him to stay.
“They didn’t understand the whole situation, regardless how many times I told them. I was trying to lead a normal life, but with the attacks happening all over Europe and knowing all the pain they (ISIS) were inflicting all over the Middle East, I decided to start my application again in late 2016, near Christmas.”
The terror attacks in London and Manchester only made Daniel even more certain that enrolling was the right decision to make.
Daniel, who proudly wears an I Love Manchester badge on his uniform, has been sending us video updates, explained the unimaginably difficult situation he finds himself in.
In one video he says: “Last night was a freezing cold night. The position we’re in isn’t great because you can’t see if anyone sneaks in. Nearby where we are there was a suicide attack with a car bomb last night. Not sure how many people were killed there because a mine exploded.”
Despite the hunger, the cold and the loss Daniel’s tone is usually stubbornly positive. He talks about the camaraderie between those fighting in Syria and doesn’t seem to be startled any more by the sound of gunfire you can hear in the background.
“Most of the guys I live with are Arabs. We slept on the streets together, in the blistering cold and we fought together. It’s hard to communicate but we make it work though. It really is a band of brothers, because you rely on each other so much,” he says.
Another one of his videos shows the place he’s currently living in, together with his comrades. It’s a ramshackle compound where the whitewashed walls are covered with pictures of their fallen friends.
Daniel gets emotional when he mentions Ollie Hall. The last few months since his passing have been really hard, he says.
“He passed away in Raqqa after triggering an IED (a type of bomb) while trying to save two children who wandered into a building laced with IRDs (an improvised explosive device).
“He truly was a great friend and he died doing the job he came here to do: to save the civilians and help them in any way possible.
“We were both looking at going into the civilian section after the fight is over, to help rebuild this lovely country.”
When things get really hard, Daniel remembers why he is there and who he’s fighting for.
That’s why he likes spending time with civilians and has been doing work with a local charity trying to help Syrian children.
“As we were clearing through Abu Hammond (region South of Deir Ezzor) we could see families returning back to their houses, wearing normal clothing.
“Even the children started approaching us with smiles on their faces. The locals would bring out food to us and sit down and drink tea. It’s really good to see people returning back to normal life.
“There’s a lot of bad here but amongst the ashes, there’s a beautiful nation who really needs our help.”
Determined to end on a positive note, Daniel says ISIS are now cornered and that they are now making a move towards what they hope to be the last assault.
However he added they’re quite limited on ammunition and transport at the moment and that numbers of people on the ground have dropped quite significantly too.
“We’re on our way to Hajin now – one of the strongest ISIS points left, that’s where they reckon the fire’s going to be the worst. It’s has been nicknamed the mini Raqqa.”
Once the fight is over, Daniel hopes to work with a construction team to build a new hospital and a university for the local community.
Click below to help build the well.