How To Help Syrian Children, Because This Horrific Violence Is Affecting Them Most
When the lifeless body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach in 2015, social media erupted. The child's family had been trying to escape Syria by packing into an inflatable boat to reach Canada, and Kurdi's image roused people worldwide to commit themselves to helping end violence in Syria. Since then, the atrocities have continued, and on Tuesday a chemical attack killed dozens of people — including children. The situation may seem hopeless, but there are many things you can do to help Syrian children, either those whose lives are at risk in the country, or those who have been displaced or are seeking refuge in other countries.
Since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, the conflict has caused over 205,000 civilian deaths, 24,000 of which have been children, according to the UK-based non-governmental organization the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Many of these deaths have been caused by the violence itself, but others are the result of malnutrition, lack of access to medical attention, poor sanitation, and food scarcity. All of these consequences disproportionately affect children, who face a greater risk of being separated from their families and are more susceptible to physical and psychological distress.
Despite this, the U.S. government has recently stated that it will no longer seek to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power. Assad's administration denies involvement in the most recent chemical attack.
Government agents and humanitarian aid organizations are not the only ones who have the power to create change and help the millions of Syrians who are struggling to escape violence and persecution. There are a lot of things you can do to support survivors of the Syrian Civil War, from donating money to volunteering your time to organizations that work with Syrian refugees.
1. Donate To INARA
The International Network for Aid, Relief, and Assistance is a non-profit organization that provides medical care and treatment for children in high-conflict areas who have suffered catastrophic injuries or illnesses as a result of war. The organization is currently focusing on assisting children from Syria, and you can donate directly through the website.
2. Support The White Helmets
The White Helmets is a volunteer organization comprised of over 3,000 local Syrian volunteers who serve as the first responders to local attacks and bombings, often risking their lives to enter high conflict areas and rescue civilians from beneath rubble. To date, the group claims to have saved over 85,000 lives, and was even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize last year. If you donate to the organization through its website, your money will go toward rehabilitating White Helmet volunteers, supporting the families of fallen rescue workers, or replacing life-saving equipment.
If you can't donate, you can still find ways to support the organization. An Oscar-winning documentary about the group, titled The White Helmets, is now streaming on Netflix. You can stream the film yourself to learn about the work the group is doing, or you can watch with friends or coordinate a screening at your workplace or university to start a dialogue about the Syrian Civil War.
3. Donate To Deaf Planet Soul
Many people often don't realize the severe unseen physical effects that war can have on children and innocent civilians. Hearing loss is one of the main disabilities that can impact refugees who escape violence in Syria, often because of their proximity to frequent bombings and explosions. Deaf Planet Soul, an NGO that specifically serves the deaf community, realized that the needs of the deaf refugee community were not being met, and visited a refugee camp in Lebanon in early March to distribute hearing aids, and sign language resources. It is raising funds for another trip soon.
You can donate hearing aids, comprehensive hearing screenings, ASL activity books, and other valuable resources to deaf refugee children online.
4. Tweet Your Representatives
One of the most effective — and completely free — ways to create change is by reaching out to your representatives to voice your concerns about the human rights abuses that are happening in Syria. Politicians are too often disconnected from the issues that affect the lives of the world's most vulnerable populations, and sharing your thoughts about the issues that matter to you most can influence the legislation that your representatives decide to work on in the future.
You can find your congressional representatives by entering your zip code here, and you can share your concerns by sending a simple Tweet. UNICEF has launched a campaign, "Sound Off At Congress," which encourages citizens to tweet at representatives using the hashtag #ChildrenOfSyria to urge them to act. You can also donate to UNICEF and their relief efforts in Syria.
Social media can be a powerful tool for advocacy, but if you're feeling more old-fashioned, you can also write a letter, send an email, or call your reps directly (websites like makemecall.org make this really easy to do).
5. Identify Organizations That Directly Help Syrians
There are a lot of organizations around the country, and around the world that are providing services, food, aid, and relief to Syrians who are still trying to escape war, and to Syrians who are now refugees living abroad or in refugee camps.
If you're unsure of which organization to donate your time or money to, Charity Navigator has created a list of the top-rated organizations assisting in the Syrian crisis. Organizations are ranked based on things like financial accountability and transparency, so you can be sure that your money is going exactly where it needs to go.
You can also peruse the list to get an idea of what kind of services are being offered, and take a look at each organization's website to see if they offer any local volunteer opportunities for you to get involved in.
6. Find Volunteer Opportunities
With this handy digital map tool, you can enter your zip code to find organizations or non-profits near you that directly work with refugees. Localize your advocacy by getting involved directly with people in your community that could use assistance. Depending on where you're located, you can most likely find opportunities tutoring ESL classes, assisting in after-school programs, answering phone calls at refugee resettlement agencies, or organizing a supply drive to provide things like clothes and schoolbooks that recently resettled families might need.
Even just spending a few hours a week supporting a local organization can make a big difference to families who have left everything to start a new life away from persecution.
7. Support The International Rescue Committee
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is a humanitarian aid organization that has been working in Syria since 2012. In Idlib in particular, the Syrian province that the latest chemical attack took place in, the IRC provides health care, education, and job training for locals, and has clinical staff and community health workers providing medical assistance in hospitals across the region. You can donate to the IRC through its website, and if you can also use this online map to locate an IRC refugee resettlement office near you to volunteer directly with refugees in your area.
8. Join A Protest, Or Plan One Yourself
Over the past few months, we have seen thousands of Americans across the country stand together to raise their voices against injustice, like President Trump's proposed travel ban that would block citizens of several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States and put a temporary hold on the refugee resettlement program.
Refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in the world, who risk their lives to escape the very acts of terrorism that Trump is afraid they themselves will commit. Refugees should never be compared to terrorists, or denied the human right to escape persecution simply because of their religion.
If you feel strongly about any of Trump's proposed policies directed at refugees, or if you want politicians to hear your thoughts about Congress' inaction in Syria, you can join a peaceful protest or organize your own. Websites like nextprotest.com and protestwithme.com are great places to start looking for protests near you, and social media is a good way to mobilize others in your area if you want to plan your own protest.
9. Sponsor A Syrian Refugee Child
Save the Children is an NGO that promotes children's rights and welfare in countries around the world. You can directly provide basic essentials, like food and education, for Syrian children living in refugee camps through the organization's sponsorship program. By making a monthly donation, you'll receive updates about the children you're helping, allowing you to not only provide financial assistance, but learn more about the kids who are most affected by the violence in Syria.
10. Educate Yourself & Engage In Dialogue With Peers
Reading news about hospitals being bombed and children being trapped beneath rubble can be disheartening, but staying informed about the ongoing Syria crisis is a key way for you to advocate for change. The voices of Syrians matter, and it is only through amplifying them that we can collectively ensure that politicians and policymakers don't forget them.
You can sign up for newsletters from organizations like Human Rights Watch and Syria Relief to receive daily updates about relief and rescue efforts in Syria, and you can check out the website News Deeply to read in-depth coverage about international policy that directly affects the region.
Arming yourself with this knowledge can empower you to spark conversations with friends, family, and even your representatives about the devastation that Syrians are trying to escape. Even just one conversation can change someone's perspective and inspire them to get involved through volunteering or advocacy.
The latest attack in Syria is a reminder that Americans, and the American government, cannot stay silent while innocent civilians and children are being attacked, potentially by their own government. You have the power, and the choice, to play an active role in assisting Syrians and Syrian refugees through dialogue, donations, and advocacy.