Should You Care About Syria?

Some of you may have seen international NGO Save the Children‘s recent viral video.  Opening with a young British girl celebrating her birthday, the short film whisks us through a series of one-second clips representing each day of her life over the following year.  Scenes  typical of childhood ensue, from eating to playing with friends to doing homework.  Smiles and laughter feature prominently.  But quickly the scene around her changes.  We overhear news of live ammunition, rebel forces, and air strikes, followed by the sounds of low-flying aircraft and nearby explosions. Our starring girl is seen at various times running, screaming, hiding, evacuating, being separated from her family, donning a gas mask.  We watch her health and hygiene deteriorate day by day, the smiles and laughter seemingly long gone.  And when we finally arrive at her next birthday, she appears to be on a makeshift hospital bed, accompanied only by her mother, fighting back tears and staring blankly into the camera, the signs and scars of a fierce civil war having left their mark.  If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it here:

Save the Children’s “Most Shocking Second a Day Video” was released to mark the 3rd anniversary of the conflict in Syria and was designed to demonstrate what it would be like to experience similar unrest in the West.  The organisation’s website introduces the short film with the words: “It may not be happening here but in Syria the horror portrayed in our latest video is all too real.”  And you may have found the video fascinating or clever.  You may have even shared it with your friends.  But do you even know what’s happening in Syria?  It’s okay to admit that you don’t.  In fact, I’d venture to say that a lot of your friends don’t either.  But maybe it’s time you learned a little bit.  After all, it’s hard to care about something you know little (or nothing) about.

Do you remember hearing about the Arab Spring?  The unrest in Syria that began in March 2011 was sparked by anti-government protests not too dissimilar to what had been seen just months earlier in other parts of the Arab world.  But violence on all sides escalated… fast.  Today, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of factions representing four or five main interest groups scattered across the country fighting.  As you can imagine, millions of civilians have been affected and, despite two rounds of peace talks, the violence continues.

The results have been catastrophic. The death toll is estimated to be over 100,000.  2.5 million have fled and over 3.5 million have been internally displaced.  1.2 million children are said to be overwhelming refugee camps in neighbouring countries.  1 in 10 of those children now has to work, some as young as age seven, putting in long hours in sometimes dangerous or exploitative conditions to support their families.  1 in 5 girls living in Jordan has entered an early marriage as her parents’ only hope of her survival.  Many children have been subjected to war-related injuries and thousands more have been separated from their families.  Up to 1 million children are trapped in under siege and hard-to-reach areas within Syria’s borders, unable to access aid.  An estimated 2.25 million of Syria’s children are currently out of school.  And reports indicate that children are being recruited as child soldiers, used as human shields, tortured, or deliberately hurt or killed by snipers.

(C) UNRWA

(C) UNRWA

Now, I’m not even going to pretend to be an expert on the situation, but I don’t think you need to be an expert to appreciate those kinds of statistics.  Something deeply troubling is happening and I’m not about to suggest that a bunch of random internet readers try to work out the solution to all of this.  In fact, I cannot overemphasise how difficult it must be to land on a resolution to a conflict so complex between parties of such differing interests and I think we’d be wise to leave it to the experts to handle that.  However, one thing is clear: people are suffering.  The violence has gone on for three years now, going on four, with no end in sight.

So all of that being said, here’s the question: should you care about Syria?  You know, I get it.  When conflicts or humanitarian crises like these are happening half way across the world, it’s tempting to not think about them much.  After all, until they put our our own physical safety or resource supply at risk, we may not see the urgency in caring.  And with the conflict having lasted so long, the headline may not stand out as much anymore compared to the million others vying for our attention each day, including that one about the “16 Hotels That Are So Cool You’ll Want To Stay Forever” or maybe that one about the “16 Dogs Who Tried Their Best But Didn’t Succeed”.  Or maybe there’s just so much going on at work these days that you just want to go home each night and get caught up on the latest season of Breaking Bad or How I Met Your Mother because you just don’t have the energy or brain power to process anything else…

(C) UNICEF MENA

(C) UNICEF MENA

Okay, admittedly, that was a tad snarky.  But you get my point.  If it was you that had to endure three years of brutal violence, your family that had to flee the country, and your seven-year-old that had to drop out of school to go work; if it was your home being destroyed, your children in the line of fire, your family starving, and you had no formal institution looking out to protect your interests; if it was your child who lost their chance at an education, your child who lost a limb, or your child who lost their life, how would you feel about others hearing about your suffering and simply closing the tab or changing the channel because they wanted something more entertaining, more instantly gratifying, or just something that didn’t make them feel so helpless or guilty?  And, honestly, learning about the situation there, I do feel helpless.  I don’t have the qualifications, expertise or means to stop the violence.  But I can still choose to care.  I can choose not to be apathetic, I can choose to feel compassion, and I can choose to stand with those suffering by supporting the efforts of organisations better positioned than myself to help them.  In this case, that means the United Nations facilitating peace talks, the UN Security Council enforcing resolutions to get aid to those who need it, and development agencies and charities like UNICEF, UNHCRUNRWA, MSF, World Vision and Save the Children that are on the ground bringing aid and bringing hope to those who have lost so much—too much.

Ultimately, what Save the Children’s video has so beautifully done is given us a choice to consider the suffering of others, not because their suffering has caused any inconvenience to us, but simply because it could have happened to any of us.  “It may not be happening here but in Syria the horror portrayed in our latest video is all too real.”  Should you care about Syria?  You can choose to, but it’s up to you.

WATCH: Syria children wishes in 2014

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Amanda Y. Fung

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