Alan could almost be sleeping, except that his face is pressed too deeply into the sand, too close to the lapping waves. Like all parents, my initial reaction was visceral - this is WRONG. This should not have happened. This should never happen, especially to children. Despite this, I felt hopeless. I thought that I lacked sufficient power or wealth to make any real impact.
It was my friend Erin who showed me this is not true - she announced that she'd become a monthly donor to Doctors Without Borders. Erin reminded me that anyone - ANYONE - can make an impact. Below, I have two options for those who want to help Syrian refugees.
Option 1: Monthly Donations to a Charity
1) Monthly donors are a vital and predictable source of income for charities. This allows them to plan for the future and direct funds where they are needed most.
2) Small monthly gifts are manageable for you, but they add up for charities. $5 - $10 a month adds up over time.
3) Monthly donations save money for charities as well - they don't have to send you appeals, reminders, and multiple tax receipts. This saves on staffing, supplies, and other fees.
Charities Helping Kids in Syria
All of the following are registered charities who are actively working to help refugees right now.
Doctors Without Borders has vessels working throughout the Mediterranean region to help migrants and refugees at sea. In a single day, they rescued 1,658 people. Those rescued included children, babies, and a woman in labour.
You can read MSF's most recent updates about their work in Syria here.
Unicef is part of the UN, and they are active in more countries and have saved more children's lives than any other humanitarian organization. They say that the risk of losing an entire generation of Syrian children grows daily. Unicef provides protection, education, nutrition, and other life-saving services to children in Syria and around the world.
Unicef has a donation page set up specifically to help Syrian refugees, here: www.unicef.ca/syria. Americans can donate to Unicef's efforts in Syria here.
The Canadian Red Cross is one of 189 national societies that make up the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. They actively support the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, which has been working on the frontlines since the Syrian crisis began.
They provide food, household items, and life-saving health services to people in need. During the winter, they also provide essential winterization items to some of the most vulnerable Syrians.
You can donate to the Canadian Red Cross here (specify Syria Crisis Fund in the drop-down menu). Donations to the American Red Cross can be made here.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is also known as the UN Refugee Agency. They are the world's leading organization aiding and protecting people forced to flee their homes. They provide shelter, food, water, medical care, and other life-saving assistance to refugees around the world.
When refugees can't go home, UNHCR finds opportunities for them to rebuild their lives in another country. Since its formation in 1950, UNHCR has helped about 50 million refugees restart their lives, and has received the Nobel Peace Prize twice.
Option 2: Write to Your MP
I know I have friends who can't afford to make a monthly donation, even if it's small. If this is you, and even if it's not, contact your MP. You can find his or her contact info using your postal code on the Parliament of Canada's website.
Here is a sample letter - feel free to use it.
I'm writing concerning the crisis in Syria and Canada's treatment of refugees.
I realize that Stephen Harper has pledged to accept 10,000 refugees from Iraq and Syria if re-elected. However, due to the severity of the crisis in Syria, this is not enough. Refugees need to be brought to Canada sooner, and the way needs to be paved as quickly as possible. I'm sure you'll agree that the need is urgent.
According to Lifeline Syria, the government could immediately assign more visa officers in refugee camps in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. We could also aid refugees in Europe more quickly by suspending regulations that prevent us from processing them. In addition, people in Canada who have family in refugee camps should be able to arrange an interim family unification.
Thank you for your commitment in the past to ensuring that Canada does its part in assisting refugees worldwide. Will you now work toward an improved Canadian response to the Syrian refugee crisis? What specific actions will you and your party take? I look forward to your response to these questions.
Copy, paste, and email your MP today. If you get a response, share it in the comments below. Note: the suggestions from Lifeline Syria in this letter are from the Toronto Star article here.
Finally, if you are catching up on the events in Syria (as I am), this illustrated introduction is a great place to start. There are no graphic photos.
None of us are powerless, but together we can make a bigger impact and have a bigger voice. Everyone can, and must, do something.