Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Morning News from Syria

First thing this morning after I came reeling into consciousness from the call of my alarm, I checked for news from Turkey - first from the one closest to me, and next from the wider world. I was eager for news from H. about his first day back in Turkey and after reading his sweet email I laid back under the covers, resting easy knowing he was safe in Istanbul (mashallah). 

Next, I did as I usually do, and turned on NPR to hear the morning updates while enjoying my cozy covers for a few more minutes.  Not soon after I had settled back onto my pillow, I heard the news from a Syrian refugee camp near the Turkish border.  Images of children's faces red and pinched with cold and desperate families sleeping in a frozen olive field filled my mind.  I no longer felt so cozy in my comforter, so I sat up and paid attention to the details of the story.

NPR has been covering the Syrian conflict with almost daily reports in their morning broadcast, so the conflict is not something new to my ears.  This morning, however, I was shocked from my bed while hearing about the miserable conditions that Syrian refugees are currently living in.  With winter just at the door, refugees are confined to their tents until the day warms up a bit and they can come outside to wait in line for water to fill their plastic buckets and some meager rations of cheese and bread to stave off hunger.  Blankets are in short supply and tents are too few for the many refugees that arrive each day with the hopes of safety and survival.
Refugee Camp near the city of Azaz on the border of Turkey and Syria.
 Odd Andersen
/AFP/Getty Images

While I hear daily updates about the Syrian conflict on the news, I do not hear much talk about Syria in the street (or hallways, shall we say).  Only a few people have asked me about the Syrian conflict and the relationship to Turkey.  My immediate relatives and family are concerned about the closeness of H.'s home town and Syria.  We will be approximately 142 km (88 miles) from the border, which is equivalent to the distance either H. or I drive every weekend to see each other (a 75 min drive in the States). 

I'm not a political expert - so I'll refrain from any commentary on the war and I'll stay away from the complex relationship between Syria and Turkey at the present moment.  What I would like to discuss instead is the obligation I feel to help in whatever way I can.

This holiday season I have been evaluating my options on where I could donate some money or gifts. The number of families wanting to be "adopted" for Christmas in my local town has skyrocketed and there simply aren't enough donations to help out in this downtrodden economy.  My family has always adopted a family for Christmas - providing gifts, clothes and toiletries for the family.  This always felt right and it was something my mom and I enjoyed doing together.

This year, I've considered adopting a local family or child  by myself, but I'm considering re-directing those funds to someone with a greater need - to the families that are living on the edge, literally and figuratively, they are on the edge of conflict and safety, they are on the edge of Syria and Turkey, and they are on the edge of misery and survival.  
Zaatari camp, in Mafraq, Jordan, Aug. 29. Credit Mohammad Hannon / AP

To add some numbers to this discussion, the United Nations reports that there are about 1.5 million people displaced within Syria's borders and more than 200,000 registered Syrian refugees in other countries, while the actual estimate is around 500,000.  Of the registered refugees, 75% are women and children. 

I'm not even sure what I can do to help.  What should I donate and how much?  Should I donate to an organization here in the US?  Or wait and find an organization in Turkey where my donation may go straight to those who really need it?  I'm currently in the process of researching.

“To give away money is an easy matter in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter.”

— Aristotle (Ethics, 360 BCE)

One of the things I heard in the news was that some of the refugee camps, especially those in Syria, are being run by a few activists.  They do not all have help from international aid organizations. When I search online for "donate to help Syrian refugees" the first links (besides the ads) are for the Syrian campaign through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or UNHCR.  At the bottom of the webpage, under the "Donate Now" button, in very small print, it says "The UNHCR Syria Appeal is providing vital humanitarian support in numerous countries where Syrians have fled."
I understand this to mean, the aid is not going to refugees inside Syria, but only those that have managed to make it across the border into a neighboring country.  Not sure how I feel about this.

The next link was from  This organization allows donations of blankets to a family and food to refugee families IN SYRIA.  Yet, what they say $150 will provide does not seem that much when I compare to the same donation dollars through the UNHCR.  Through an organization called "Global Giving" donations to the UNHCR are matched 30%.  I'm possibly leaning towards the latter for now, and then seeing what I can do when in Turkey.

I'll admit - I know what you might be thinking, because I think it too.  We all have conflict fatigue.  Turn on the radio, open the newspaper, or watch 5-min of international news and you are sure to hear about conflicts raging around the world, recently the Congo and Syria, but there is poverty and suffering everywhere and we are likely to not hear about many others that simply do not reach our mainstream news.  After a while it is feels like the norm, and we are so far away from many of these serious problems, with oceans and deserts and forests and borders, oh so many borders, in between us all.  

I understand.  I feel emotion when I hear the news, but then I get up and do something else and the feeling passes.  I soon start worrying about something trivial in my own life and forget about the real problems of the world.

Yet this time it's different for me.  Perhaps it is realizing that just 80 miles away from where I will be in about a week, there will be immense suffering.  Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of learning about cold children and hungry families as I laid warm in my bed with plenty of food in my fridge.  Perhaps it is also that my mind is fresh from finishing "Gardens of Water", a novel set predominantly in a refugee camp  after the earthquake that devastated Istanbul in 1999.  For whatever reason (it doesn't really matter why), the image of cold and hungry women and children just would not leave me this morning.  On my chilly walk to work, as I thought about this issue, I  made a promise to myself that I will do something.  I will do my best, to just add a drop to the bucket in aid.  If we all add a few drops, soon it will fill a bucket and if we really all pitch in, the bucket may runneth over.  With this help, possibly some Syrians may get the hand they really need to be able to stand on solid ground again after these many months of quivering concrete and shattered glass from bombs and bullets.

When we forget about the humanity of others, we neglect our own humanity.  So let's not forget.

If all else fails, 'tis the season of giving and generosity after all.

If you are interested, here is where you can find more information on the conflict and on donating to the cause:
Panetta Warns Syria:'Whole World is Watching'  : this is an NPR article that shares links to a variety of different sources providing news on the conflict

U.S. Steps Up Aid (But No Arms) To Syrian Exiles

As Numbers Swell, Syrian Refugees Face New Woes

Organizations that are collecting donations to provide blankets, food, and shelter to Syrian Refugees:


  1. I am so glad to read your process of thinking about all of this - and I very much agree with conflict fatigue - and that this should not be given in to.

    M. and I have travelled a lot in that area - Samandag, Antakya and south of Urfa near Kilis - and we wince when we see all that goes on and it pains us. You have shared some important resources here and I thank you for that.

    I am really, really looking forward to your posts once you get to Turkiye. I am hoping that your writing will be a way to bridge what can be an overwhelming time during a family visit when your Turkish (or Turklish) is not yet up to the snuff you wish it was.

    Su gibi git, su gibi gel, and may we meet in the new year.

    Your new e-friend, Liz from Slowly-by-Slowly (wordpress won't let me sign in!)

    1. Thanks Liz - So you know the region where we will be staying! I will definitely be writing from Turkey - I'm looking forward to it and hopefully focusing on practicing Turkish as well. I wish we were located a little closer - you are in New England and I'm in the center of the Midwest! Maybe one day in Turkey :-)


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