I can remember the first time I visited a Syrian refugee camp. What struck me most was the traumatised looks on the faces of the children. Children who had seen unimaginable horrors. A toddler who jumped at every loud noise, thinking it was bombs or gunfire; a 12-year-old who was so disturbed he wet his bed; little boys and girls who had seen family members die. Children with no home, no school, no toys and only the clothes they fled their homes in.
Over the past few years, I’ve spent time in more camps in Jordan and Iraq, visiting some several times. It’s then that you build relationships – establishing friendships with people who are so keen to share their story with you. I have been thinking about these families a lot these past few weeks. It’s so difficult not to become emotionally affected.
The power of one image
A wave of emotion has engulfed the UK in the past few days, prompted by the tragic image of three-year-old Aylan washed up on the shore. It is terribly sad that it has taken this image to cause a shift in political priorities, but it is amazing to see the passionate outpouring from the British public now emerging.
It’s such a natural human reaction to want to help when we are hearing of such heartbreaking stories of people who've lost everything. But how do we best do this? I know many people who want to collect clothes or toys. Or even to open their homes to Syrian families. It’s a compassionate response, but unless you have established links with people in need and proper support or distribution structures in place, it’s often fraught with difficulties.
What you can do to help Syrian refugees
In reality, aid agencies have got decades of expertise at getting the best aid to the people that need it most. They know how to source the items on a big scale, efficiently, and with guarantees that these meet safety standards. They can effectively assess where the need is greatest, and have expertise in distributing items quickly and fairly. So I truly believe that the best thing to help is to donate, as many have already done so with incredible generosity, but collective action also plays a vital role in influencing government decision-making and public opinion.
Here are four things you can do.
- Firstly, if you haven’t donated, please consider giving to our Refugee Crisis Appeal: we've been working with Syrian refugees since 2013 and now are increasing our work to reach more people during this crisis. Donate now.
- Secondly, help urge the government to accept more refugees: keeping this on the political agenda is crucial as our government considers their response. At its heart this is also a political crisis – and it needs a political solution. Sign the petition now.
- Run for refugees: Do a sponsored run to show solidarity with refugees and reflect on the distances they have to travel. Get friends and family to sponsor you. Just choose a free organised park run near you. Sign up to Run for Refugees here.
- Fundraise for us: by doing an emergency collection or organising your own fundraising event you can help raise even more vital funds to support our work helping refugees. Register to fundraise for us.
Whatever you choose to do, you can make an even greater difference by telling your friends and family and sharing your actions on social media to encourage others to take action with you.