21 September 2015

What One British 5-Year-Old Taught Me About the Syrian Refugees

The other night I was stunned into complete, dumbfounded silence.

It was Saturday evening and I was watching Tilly, one of my former students. While she was brushing her teeth, I swiped my phone on to check my messages. A photo of several Syrian refugees popped up from an article I had been reading earlier that day.

London Lifestyle Blogger



"Who are they?" she asked, toothpaste suds spraying every which way.

"They're refugees... Do you know what a refugee is?"

She shook her head.

"Hmmm... Well, they are people that have to leave their homes because it's not safe. They usually have to go some place far away."

"Why aren't they safe at home?" she asked.

Fair question. But as I considered how to respond, I realised I was at a cross-roads. What would her parents think of my introducing the ideas of ISIS, war, death and displacement into their sweet, five-year old's head? I decided to approach it the way I had always wished adults would have answer my questions-- with gentle honesty.

Using the most child appropriate version I could think of on the spot, I explained that there were some people in a place near Egypt (she loves Egypt), called Syria. The people were fighting all the time. It has become such a dangerous place that all the mummies and daddies have had to take their children and run away, without any toys or clothes or anything. They pile into tiny boats and have to cross the sea to get to Europe, where it is safer. But, there are usually too many people in boats. When big waves come it can be quite scary.

"Do some people drown? she asked, eyes widening at the prospect.

"Sometimes yes. It's very sad."

"But if they get across the water then they are safe from the baddies?"

"Yes, but the problem is that they don't have a home or food anymore.... so, even if they get across they are still in trouble."

"Why doesn't everyone help them?" Good question.

"Well, there are so many refugees coming, people that already live in Europe are worried. Where will all these people live? How can we pay to take care of all of them?  It's a big problem"

Tilly looked down at her teddy bear. It's her most prized possession and never more than 10 ft from her when she's home.

"I think I need to give those refugee children my nallebjörn." Nallebjörn is Swedish for teddy bear.

Knowing how much she loves that thing made my heart wince a little bit. Would I be willing to give my camera or my computer away to a group of refugees? The answer is most decidedly no.

I told Tilly that it was very kind of her to offer, but I thought her teddy bear should probably stay with her.

For the rest of toothbrushing time she mentally inventoried her clothes, toys, books and even the kitchen cupboards for things she could send to the children.

Finally she hopped into bed and we sat down to read some much happier, lighter bedtime stories. After answering another flurry of refugee-related questions, I turned the lights out and sat next to her while she fell asleep.

She was still for several minutes. At last, I thought she'd dozed off.

Then suddenly she turned over and said, "I feel really bad for all those people in Syria, but I think I feel most bad for the ones that are hurting people."

Surprised, and thinking I'd misheard her, I responded with a neutral, "Why is that?"

"Well, I think the ones that hurt people don't really understand that what they are doing is wrong, and that makes me really sad for them."

Good grief.

Despite a half dozen humanitarian-centric trips, and over a quarter century of weekly Sunday school lessons, the idea of feeling pity for the inflictors of this whole great travesty had never even entered my mind.

Yet here was a little blond angle, who-- in the space of a half hour-- had offered her dearest treasure and her whole heart to not just the victims, but the "baddies" as well.

Now I'm well aware of the complexity of this issue. I know it isn't as easy as just giving love when we have a mounting geo-political confrontation on our hands. But, in thinking about Syria, let's not forget that we are all a part of humanity.

Imagine if we could avoid the "otherness" of hate, but instead look toward those that we dislike (or fear) with compassion and understanding. Surely if we could all do a little more of that, there would be less war, more love, and a great deal more security. Let's all give it a go, shall we?


If you are interested in making a donation to the Syrian refugee relief efforts, I've done a great deal of research into this and would recommend donating to the following:

LDS PHILANTHROPIES

This is my favourite humanitarian charity because:
1) 100% of the money goes to humanitarian causes
2) Workers oversee the full distribution of goods (ie their are people on the ground watching the moms receiving the diapers in hand) and
3) Charity work closely with local, established non-profits and NGOs to know what is most needed (as oppose to just dropping off a bunch of stuff Westerners THINK refugees might need).

SAVE THE CHILDREN

This is one of the most highly regarded charities and I think it is a great option for someone that really wants to make sure they money goes directly to the children (especially if they'd prefer to not donate to an ecclesiastically based charity like the no mentioned above). I like them because:
1) 85% goes directly to the children - This is very high for a non-volunteer organisation.
2) It is one of the UK's oldest NGOs
3) They are very transparent with where their money goes and how it is spent.

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