Be informed, inform others, and do something

Note: While this post is focused on Syria and its humanitarian crisis, it can be applied to any humanitarian crisis/human rights' violations. The action steps outlined in the post can also be applied to helping out the most vulnerable in our own communities. 

For the past year, the refugee crisis--particularly folks fleeing Syria--has gripped me. It's formed a perpetual lump in my throat that gets bigger with every story I hear. I don't pretend to understand the complexities of the civil war in Syria or the difficulties of the refugee crisis, and still--I'm drawn to it. I can't look away from it. While there is a lot that troubles me about this humanitarian crisis, what's bothered me the most lately is how few people seem to know or care about it.

Last week in an interview on MSNBC, Libertarian presidential candidate, Gary Johnson, stumbled when asked about his thoughts regarding Aleppo. "What is Aleppo?" he responded. It was an honest mistake by a human being. As soon as the reporter prompted him clarifying that Aleppo is in Syria, Johnson was back on track with clear and intelligent thoughts regarding the conflict in Syria. Johnson's stumble is, I think, reflective of many Americans' response to Aleppo or Syria. Do Americans know about Aleppo? What do they really know about Syria? About the 450,000 people killed in the conflict since 2011? Do they know about the 4.5 million refugees who have fled to nearby countries? What about the nearly 7 million refugees who are internally displaced from their homes?

Even with information literally at our fingertips, there's a thousand reasons excuses we can provide for being ill-informed. We're busy, we're maintaining families, we're doing humanitarian work in our own communities, the news is too sad...admittedly, I've used these same excuses to tune out troubling current events. That all changed, though, when I saw the haunting photo of the three year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, who drowned while his family desperately tried to reach a better life. The image of his body face-down on the beach still haunts me one year later.

Why should we care about Syria? Because we're human.We (as humans) should care and take notice whenever any human beings' basic rights are violated on and off American soil. We can show our concern by first becoming informed (the BBC and NPR have frequent and excellent coverage of Syria). In "Six Habits of Highly Empathic People," Roman Krznaric explains that taking an interest in the lives of strangers is one way to develop empathy; as we learn about people and their experiences, we'll begin to develop our own understanding of the world around us a little more. When we take interest and seek information about Aylan Kurdi, not only will we learn something, but after hearing a story like this, we can't help but feel. Our knowledge, our feelings, and our sense of empathy can compel us to action.

What can we do about Syria? First, we need to be informed and inform others. What if we used social media to share what's going on in the world as much as we share what we ate for dinner? What if we engaged in open dialogue about these tough issues rather than trying to defend a point? Next, if we can, we should donate to a reputable charitable organization. This article from The New York Times features quite a few organizations assisting with the many refugee crises in the world. I love the Preemptive Love Coalition; I've purchased soap from their refugee soap-makers to give as gifts. Depending on where you live, you can also give your time to refugees and immigrants. We don't have many Syrian refugees in my small midwestern town. However, we do have a high concentration of Somalian refugees and immigrants from Mexico and Latin America, so to do my part helping folks in need, I volunteer through our local Multicultural Coalition office tutoring folks preparing for their naturalization exam. Seek opportunities in your community to help newcomers; be a friendly face and offer a welcoming hand. Finally, we should choose to be controlled by love and bravery rather than a rhetoric of fear. What if we chose to embrace refugees in our own country rather than fearing them?

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to learn about the lives of others, particularly those impacted by the civil war in Syria, might be uncomfortable, but I honestly believe that's where the list of risks stop. The benefits of learning about and taking action for a people in crisis outnumber the risks for our vulnerability. Learn about Syria. Learn about Aleppo. Learn about the humanitarian crises occurring in our country. Learn about the people living on the fringes in your own communities, and then, FOR THE LOVE, do something to help.

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