These days when I turn on the computer or the television, I do so with a heaping dose of trepidation. The news headlines seem to be a cesspool of scandal, violence, hatred and general blegh-ness lately. Like many Americans, my attention and angst had, for the most part, been focused on the toxic political environment and trying to get my kids to stop fighting over the Xbox. For the past months, however, my attention has shifted. Because halfway around the world, there is a literal bloodbath that is taking the lives of innocent women, children and families — and it’s hard to ignore that regardless of how distracted we get by the Kardashians and whatever nonsense is going on with HGTV. Because when innocent children are literally dying in the streets, it’s impossible not to notice.
If you’re a little hazy on what’s going on in Syria, like I was, let me break it down for you. The war was ignited in 2011, when protests broke out after 15 schoolchildren were arrested (and reportedly tortured) for writing anti-government graffiti on a wall. The government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, opened fire on the protesters, killing four people immediately, and then shooting at mourners at the victims’ funerals the following day. Violence escalated, and the unrest spread until the situation was declared a state of civil war in 2012.
Battles between the Syrian government and the opposition — which includes rebel fighters, political parties opposed to Assad, and those living in exile — continued to escalate and were further complicated when ISIS began taking over large areas of the country. Most of the fighting lately has been concentrated in Aleppo, and the stories of death and destruction are ghastly. On December 12, 2016, 82 civilians — including 11 women and 13 children — were reportedly killed by pro-government forces, and despite a ceasefire, air raids resumed on December 14. And most recently, 72 people in Syria’s Idlib province were killed in a chemical attack.
What makes the crisis in Syria so utterly horrifying is that most of the violence is concentrated in civilian areas where people are trapped among the rubble and unable to flee amidst the bombings, gunfire, and chemical warfare.
The scope of the crisis in Syria truly boggles the mind.
There are currently about 5 million Syrians who are refugees, not to mention the millions more who are internally displaced within Syria, many of whom are children. If that isn’t enough to make you want to curl into a ball and huddle under a blanket in the fetal position, I don’t know what is.
It’s awful, overwhelming, and terrifying. Quite frankly, if you aren’t the least bit affected by what is happening in Syria, check your pulse because you might actually be dead inside. As they say, there but for the grace of God go I. This could be us. These could be our families. These could be our children who are literally dying in the streets.
Most of us are empathetic, compassionate people. We want to do good. We want to help. We just don’t know how. Well, here are three easy things you can do right now to help. And remember, there no such thing as a small good deed. It all counts.
I’ll be honest, I tend to be one of those impulsive donors. I get excited about a cause, donate first and then ask questions. Unfortunately, not all charities are created equal and not all organizations are using the donations in the way we think they will. Fortunately, there are people like my friend Annie who does the dirty work of vetting organizations. After hearing about a non-governmental organization (NGO) called Preemptive Love that is helping in Syria, she called the organization in December to find out more.
“I called northern Iraq today to speak with a non-profit called Preemptive Love (PL),” Annie Flavin wrote on Facebook. “They are the only Western NGO operating right now in the Aleppo countryside to provide food and medical aid to whatever Syrians can escape. Their emergency feeding program in the countryside is a few miles outside Aleppo’s city limits and the families they’re serving are considered ‘transient’ — that is, these families are actively fleeing and are not in a formal camp setting. PL is providing cooked meals for a little over 20,000 people per day at the moment. They’ve also distributed around 2,000 sleeping bags to displaced families — many of whom are sleeping out in the open. There is nowhere to go for these people […] This organization is helping these people.”
Preemptive Love is helping Syrian people who are literally running for their lives. Think about that for a minute. They are literally running for their lives, and just a few dollars can give them a hot meal or a sleeping bag.
Other possible organizations to send donations include: Doctors Without Borders, International Rescue Committee, and the Syrian American Medical Society. You can find other organizations who are helping in Syria on this list provided by Charity Navigator.
2. Contact Your Legislators
Although 200 additional American special operations troops were recently sent to Syria to help Syrian Kurdish and Arabic forces fighting ISIS, there is still much debate in the United States about our level of involvement in Syria, and whether it should include military force. Regardless of any current or potential military involvement, I think we can all agree that, at a minimum, we should support humanitarian efforts and reexamine the way we are responding to Syrian refugees.
Despite misleading and biased information from the conservative media, according to the State Department, the vast majority of Syrian refugees referred to the United States by the United Nations are women and children, and all refugees undergo a rigorous vetting process.
A quick two-minute phone call to your state representatives can go a long way in letting our government officials know that we support helping Syrian refugees escape this life of violence and war. If you’re unsure of what to say, here is a sample script:
Hello, My name is __________. I’m calling to express support for the State Department’s refugee program, and ask for continued support, particularly with respect to Syrian refugees. Turning people away in their time of need does not reflect American values, and I would also request that Senator/Representative _________ increase awareness about the extensive and rigorous vetting process that refugees undergo. Thank you.
If you choose to write an email or letter to your legislative representatives, Mercy Corps has a sample letter you can send here.
You can find the names, addresses, and phone numbers for your representatives here and your senators here. I emailed and called my representatives this afternoon using the calling script and letter template, and it took no more than five minutes.
3. Do not look away.
Although the problem is overwhelming, we cannot look away. Learn more about what is going on, and consider what it must be like for the families living through this horror and for the ones who have had to flee their home to seek refuge in another country. These are dire situations, and we can’t afford to do nothing. Use your voice. Use your wallet. Spread legitimate news, so that other citizens can be informed of these horrific circumstances and make the choice to donate, call, etc.
The news is depressing as hell, no doubt, but we can use our sadness to propel us to action. Whether you make a phone call or donate a few dollars (or a lot of dollars), we can all do something. And every little bit can truly make a difference.