OP/ED Letter for the Greenwich Free Press
September 14, 2015
Last weekend, as I swam laps in an idyllic pool, far from problems headlining on the front-page news, I considered lessons that would encourage my middle school art students to extend themselves to children thousands of miles away. I briefly tried to engage the lifeguard in a discussion, but she hadn’t heard about the Syrian civil war, the country’s mass exodus or the problems facing refugees in Europe. I directed her to pick up her smart phone and go to the New York Times homepage. When she did, she audibly gasped at the sight of Aylan Kurdi, which prompted her further investigation.
Perhaps sending kids’ art and donated supplies to refugee centers will offer momentary comfort to displaced children. Maybe this effort I have in mind will seem trivial, but it cannot hurt. It’s important that my US students think about social responsibility and how they fit in the world. Hopefully, following class discussions, students will want to do something thoughtful.
In my opinion, helping people exiting Syria should be a responsibility shared by countries around the world. Furthermore, in the future, countries should establish proactive systems for rallying to each other’s aid. There should be basic protocol for sheltering and caring for refugees: people who are tired, sick and psychologically distraught. The Syrians have not fled their homeland to take from others. They have escaped tyranny, savagery, torture and loss.
Some might question why would we help foreign refugees when we have a homeless population right here in America. It’s the difference between chronic problems that call for long-term strategic planning versus an emergency situation, which requires immediate action. To those who understand the difference between the challenges, but who continue to shun the immediate foreign need for aid, imagine that your mother or father was locked in the abandoned truck in Austria in which 71 refugees died. Imagine discovering that your child washed up on a beach in Turkey, after your family desperately tried to escape tyranny. Imagine a situation in which you finally escaped political horrors in one location, but hatred for refugees and for people of your faith in all the surrounding locations made you incapable of finding a place to sleep.
I am a humanitarian before I am an American. At this critical juncture, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Christians, Agnostics, Chinese, Swedish, Americans and Austrians need to rally together to save lives. Middle school students can offer their version of hope to refugee children, while NGO’s, philanthropists and governments have different resources to share. For the duration of this emergency, world citizens need to see beyond local needs and extend all hands to the Syrian refugees.