Scanning through articles and posts about the brutality of the civil war in Syria and the subsequent refugee crisis, I see openings like, “The world is shocked as…,” and “The world stood still in horror at…”. I’m there with them. When I finally looked at the photo of Aylan Kurdi, I sobbed for an hour, looked at my baby, and sobbed some more.
And then, like an idiot, I read the comments section. “Why do I always do this?” I grumble, even while I continue to scroll (masochistically, I might add) through comments and thoughts which don’t exactly inspire any love for or faith in humanity. Sigh. Scroll. Scroll. Ethnic slur. Unsubstantiated claims. Oh. Hey. Someone who actually feels human emotion! Ethnic slur. Scroll. Just a plain jerk. Who even thinks these thoughts? And a long stream of potentially diagnosable paranoia.
It’s sad and surprising, that in this day and age, there is still so much xenophobia and “othering” seemingly wherever you go. Thankfully for the good and betterment of our global society, I look around me and also see and hear of amazing people turning their hearts and minds, time and money to help these extraordinary people of strength and courage find a peaceful home.
The emergency response to this humanitarian disaster is crucial. But if we’re going to move closer to a world where war and violence aren’t commonplace, we need to educate ourselves and our children about a few things both at home, in schools, and in the community. Based upon the comments sections in articles about the plight of refugees from Syria, I would say it’s needed. Here are 5 things we should learn, along with activities to illustrate these principles to our kids, to help stop these atrocities before they start.
- What happens in one country affects the rest of the world: It’s evident to everyone that we live in a globalized society. We’re connected by technology, trade, travel, and languages. We’re also connected by the common desires of health, happiness, family and the desire to live a peaceful life. It’s easy for everyone, of all ages, to disregard this truth. We’re so used to paying attention to just what’s in front of us. If we dig deep enough, most of us can a find a human connection to the refugee crisis in Syria. A relative, a neighbor, the barista who makes our coffee, a coworker- someone we know and maybe someone we care about is affected by what’s happening on the other side of the world. And if it’s not the civil war in Syria, it’s another conflict elsewhere.
- For families: Explain to your kids that we live in a world so connected that even though it may not seem like it, the people we interact with everyday have loved ones and connections all over the world. Our world is one, big neighborhood! Print off a world map. Have your child select 5 people that he or she knows (or would like to get to know). Try not to choose just family. Using the phone, email or in person, have your child do a mini-interview with each adult or child to find out where and how they know the people in their lives. On your world map, use a different color marker for each individual they interview, and make a small dot in the country or city. Next to each dot, write the nature of their relationship- friend, mother, teacher, sister. Your child can do as many interviews as she likes, and when she’s done, she’ll be able to see how interconnected we all are. What happens in places far away on the other side of the world, affects our family and friends.
- Poverty deeply affects people’s lives: So many times from so many people, I feel like I hear rhetoric about how so-and-so picked themselves up by their bootstraps without help from anyone. But we’re all individuals with different strengths and weaknesses and different luck. For people to rise out of poverty, they need to have access to a solid middle-class network to help teach them class-specific skills and rules that they may not be aware of (like how to apply for college, financial aid, scholarships, car loans etc…) Simply giving refugees a place to go without helping them along the way isn’t enough. Studies have shown that the most effective way for people to rise out of poverty is to have a middle-class or upper middle-class mentor who stands by their side for an extended period of time.
- For families: Consider making more than a donation to support refugees. There are programs where families can essentially ‘adopt’ a family for 4 months or beyond and help them navigate systems in their new country. This is something that even young children can be involved in, as they can help introduce their new family to their friends. If you’re not in an area where that is possible, consider committing to donate now, in 3 months, 6 months and 12 months. Check out this list for some great, reputable options. There are lots of other people living in need who are not refugees. Check your area to see if there are similar programs for families in need in your community.
- Our actions affect people: Everyday we’re making decisions that directly influence others lives. Since we live in such an international economy, the cost and quality and the company you buy a shirt from has an effect on the type of life that the person who made that shirt is living. Poor living conditions, non-living wages, inadequate, unhealthy and unsafe work places; all these things can contribute to poverty, but also can contribute to desperation. Desperation fuels instability. Instability and desperation can often lead to violence. One of the small ways we can affect the stability and quality of living of others is to buy clothing and goods from fair trade or ethically sound companies.
- For families: Live by example. Do research on 4 or 5 companies from whom you usually purchase items. If they engage in practices you disagree with, talk with your children about why you won’t purchase that item from that company anymore and search for other ethical options together. Then stick to it.
- We must think for ourselves: Starting from a young age, we’re all bombarded every day by a variety of messages in books, blogs (like this one), newspapers, TV and internet memes. Freedom to share your thoughts and opinions is an important part of open societies and informing ourselves about different opinions is an important part of being an informed person. But an educated and wise person knows that not everything they read, hear or see as popular opinion is true. They can read a newspaper article without tacitly agreeing or hear the opinion of a coworker and be willing to listen carefully, think things through and form their own opinions. The ability of a country’s citizens to do this plays a part in the formation of public opinion and even public policy.
- For families: This is a bit more suitable to families with older children. For one week, select a short op-ed to read as family. Have each family member share whether they agree or disagree and their opinion.
- The longer we let race, ethnicity, religion and nationality divide us, the longer these types of occurrences will happen: The human race spends a lot of time frantically trying to mentally organize a complex world by stuffing people into boxes. While it’s easier for us to believe that all people who look the same or live in the same place, think, act and feel the same way, it’s simply not true! In this particular crisis, I’ve read and heard people say that if X country lets Syrian refugees in, the results would be the same as letting in terrorists and criminals, because those that identify as Muslim are all the same. Every human being is unique, regardless of if you feel they fit stereotypes that society may hold about their race, creed or nationality.
- For families: Make a decision to be an ambassador of the individual. Talk to your child about how the world is full of people who all look different and are unique individuals. Talk with her about the things that she feels make her special and unique. Identify a few children/friends or family in your child’s life that are from a different country, different race, different religion, etc… as well as a couple that may share racial or religious similarities with your child. Have your child identify the things that she feels make them unique and special. Talk about the similarities and differences that the children have (Jane and Maria both like horses, Jane likes gym class best and Maria likes science class best). Explain to your child that everybody, no matter what they look like or where they’re from is unique with particular similarities and differences and likes and dislikes, just like her. They have a family that they love, and rules they need to follow, little brothers that get into their toys, and different subjects they love to learn. We can’t tell who somebody is by looking at them.
Let’s commit to strengthening our families, our immediate communities, our global community, and to help these refugees where we can. Let’s all do our part.
Robert Kennedy said,“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
It’s time to go beyond this immediate crisis, and work to build people, communities and ultimately a world based on love, respect, dignity, and forgiveness.
Now it’s your turn! Link up your posts about the crisis in Syria below, so we can help share resources and inspiration!