There is a war in Syria. Around 40,000 lives have been lost. It is estimated that 2.5 million people have been displaced. The U.N. has registered more than 200,000 refugees. Children are being tortured and families are going hungry. As the conflict worsens, I’ve felt helpless, as I’m sure many of you have. However, we are not. We have something that so many Syrians live without: a voice.
Bashar al Assad has only been the president of Syria since 2000, though his family has been in power for much longer. He inherited the presidency from his father, Hafez al Assad, who was elected in 1971. Citizens have been greatly oppressed by the Assad regime, which operates much like the mafia and controls everything from military forces to government security.
In spring of 2011, a number of Syrian teens used grafitti to express their anti-regime beliefs in the southern city of Daraa. When news surfaced, the children were brutally tortured by the regime.
This was the final straw for Syrians who had suffered the inhumanities of Assad’s rule, silently, for more than a decade. They demanded his resignation.
Peaceful protesters took to the streets of major cities like Damascus in the hopes of calling attention to the authoritarian rule of Assad. According to NPR, much of the uprising was led by Syria’s youth through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Older generations began to follow suit, despite the fact that they were raised under the notion that speaking out is wrong. Even a prominent Syrian author and journalist, Samar Yazbek, risked everything to write her award-winning book “A Woman in the Crossfire,” exposing the war.
Over the past 20 months, different opposition groups were informally acting as representatives for Syria’s people. According to BBC News, on Nov. 20, the U.K. recognized the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces as the sole legitimate representative. France, Turkey and six gulf states have also recognized the opposition. The U.S. has expressed some support, but has yet to do so formally.
However, our ability to help does not lie in government’s hands.
It is a common misconception that in order to reach out to the victims of this war, we must put together a mass fundraiser, come up with the latest and greatest social media outreach program, or pack our bags and volunteer in refugee camps abroad. While those things are certainly welcome, they are not always realistic.
The Syrian American Council created a list on their website of all of the ways that we can help out stateside.
As I mentioned earlier, young people have proven to be fearless leaders in this revolution and they’re relying on social media to connect, communicate and organize with each other. One way to show support is to follow their Twitter handle @SyriaCampaigns to stay up-to-date on current events.
We can also donate to relief organizations like The Syrian Sunrise Foundation, dedicated to helping orphans, widows and families affected by the war.
Writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper is an effective way to spread the word about the current conditions in Syria. Better yet? Contact your representative in Congress urging them to establish safe zones in Syria. This website even offers a link to tips and sample letters.
Most importantly, be informed. The Syrian American Council’s website provides a list of 46 questions and answers about the current state of the war. There’s also the constant news flow from major networks like CNN and BBC.
Being informed is probably the easiest action any one of us could take, but it’s also one of the hardest. There is nothing enjoyable about reading through stories of human suffering, and the images are not easy to look at. Their worn expressions and tears of grief are all but tangible. The sheer magnitude of the conflict can be overwhelming, but we have to remind ourselves that it’s also inspiring.
These people, many of them college-aged kids, are going to great lengths to use their voice. We just need to listen. They are risking their lives for issues like equality and education, things that we’ve never had to live without. The least we can do is acknowledge their courage. Talk about it, write about it, tweet about it, learn about it.
Carly Samuelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.