Sharif Aly is Advocacy Counsel at Islamic Relief USA
There are close to 4 million Syrians living as refugees. 4 million. The number is staggering and it continues to grow. The United Nations has called the Syrian conflict, the biggest humanitarian crisis of this generation. With no end in sight and most of the media’s attention focused on military and political issues, Syrians caught in the midst of this crisis are being forgotten. Individual stories that create empathy between people are being lost.
On Friday, March 27, Islamic Relief USA participated in “Life in Refuge” an event at Freedom Plaza in Washington D.C., organized by CARE and with other NGO partners including, Save the Children, Syria Relief & Development, Syrian American Medical Society, OXFAM and the #withSyria campaign. Life in Refuge uses art and visuals to bring attention to the humanitarian crisis in Syria by focusing on its impact on refugees, specifically women and children, on an individual level. One such display was developed by Islamic Relief USA, titled, “Scars & Smiles: Face & Stories of Syrian Refugee Children,” with photography from the field by Ridwan Adhami and a storyline written by Nada Shawish.
In 2012, Islamic Relief USA sent Ridwan and Nada to capture the experience of the refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. The resulting photography and experiences from this visit tell a profound story that moved attendees of the exhibit. For Scars & Smiles creator and Islamic Relief USA Creative Director Ridwan, the point of the larger Scars & Smiles project is to show the human side of conflicts around the world through the intimate details of individuals who have been forced to live through them.
“Seeing these images, kids and families, really breaks your heart,” said one Life in Refuge attendee Heba Ismail. “It’s not just numbers anymore. It brings a soul, a person, a name to the Syrian conflict.”
The photographs and the narrative were extremely moving for another attendee Zeina Alkhalaf who remarked how the photography showed the pain and the hope each refugee had.
“The most powerful thing that stood out was the name tags that said, ‘name withheld,’ from them,” she said. “How powerful is it to not even be able to say your name because of how terrified you are of what could happen to you because of it. It’s an extremely powerful thing.”
In addition to the Scars & Smiles display, CARE organized three other exhibits, including a real refugee tent that attendees could walk through and a 3D virtual reality experience titled, “Clouds Over Sidra” that left Islamic Relief USA’s Director of Public Affairs Christina Tobias-Nahi amazed.
“A highlight of the experience was stepping into the virtual world of a young girl in the refugee camp and accompanying her through various facets of her daily life – all in 3D,” she said of the 3D virtual reality film through Zataari Camp in Jordan. “You felt like you could reach out and touch those with you.”
According to Hazami Barmada, Communications and Strategy Consultant at the United Nations, the technology is meant to make those far away empathize with the plight of the Syrians. Hopefully viewers will, after walking in others’ shoes, become more active donors and activists in conflicts like that of Syria.
These opportunities to create further awareness on the humanitarian crisis in Syria are especially important. Not only to raise money for aid, but to increase awareness in support of those most in need.
Islamic Relief USA is part of a coalition of NGO’s called #withSyria, who are working to increase awareness and policy support. This support calls for world leaders to:
- Boost the humanitarian response – fully fund the aid response and ensure refugees seeking safety find asylum, including through increased resettlement for the most vulnerable;
- Stop attacks on civilians – send an unequivocal message to parties to the conflict that attacks on civilians and blocks to aid will not be tolerated; and
- Prioritize a political solution with human rights at the heart: a halt to the suffering can only be achieved if negotiations – whether local or international – include safeguards to ensure respect for international humanitarian and human rights law.
Courtesy of #withSyria coalition – www.withsyria.com.
IRUSA intends more collaborative events to help fulfill a commitment to Syrians in need.
Pay Attention to Syria by signing on to the #withSyria petition online here.