Syrian refugees who don’t go viral deserve help, too

Khadija Saifullah

A couple of days ago, a photo was released of a 5-year-old injured Syrian boy who was recovered after a blast. The boy’s demeanor — emotionless and dazed at the blood on his hands — caught people’s attention because this one image gives a representation of what the lives of millions of Syrian children have become after almost half a decade of devastation.

Less widely shared was the story’s devastating postscript. On Saturday, activists said Omran’s 10-year-old brother, Ali, died from wounds sustained in the same airstrike, launched by forces allied to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. 

The U.N. estimates that 6.6 million Syrians are internally displaced. When considering refugees, well over half of the country’s prewar population of 23 million is in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, whether they still remain in the country or have escaped across the borders.

“We tell our children now that we’re sorry,” said local English teacher Abdulkafi Alhamdo. “They’re not American, they’re not French. When they die, you won’t see them on the news.”

The muted response underscored the ephemeral nature of a story that goes viral. Syrian doctors and activists are dismayed that the flood of media attention hasn’t translated into contributing to bringing the war to an end.

“Omran became the ‘global symbol of Aleppo’s suffering’ but to most people he is just that — a symbol,” wrote Kenan Rahmani, a Syrian activist based in Washington. “Ali is the reality: That no story in Syria has a happy ending.”

A lot of people responded to this with feelings of helplessness and pity. Yet, there is actually much more we can do for refugees than we might think.

1) Purchase winter items on Amazon to donate, so Syrian orphans will be better prepared for the harsh weather conditions. Through a drive on the site, these will go straight to Helping Hand for Relief and Development, a development organization that will send a shipping container of items to Syrian refugees in the next few weeks. 

2) Donate any winter items or toys you have to the Helping Hand office in Houston if you’re in town to 10503 Rockley Rd, Houston, TX 77099. They accept new, old and gently used gloves, jackets, sweaters and blankets.

3) Sponsor a Syrian orphan at hhrd.org/osp. You can choose the gender and age of the child, provide them with medical check-ups, school supplies and in some cases, even receive letters from them. It’s $1 a day —just $30 a month—to sponsor a child like the one in the video. You get pictures and actual tangible evidence of the help you’re giving these children.

Many of us have grown used to hearing about tragedies in Syria that we have become immune to hearing about the tragedies that happen overseas. Instead of just sharing the boy’s images and feeling choked up for three minutes, if everyone contributed to providing a better life for the next generation of Syrians, the refugee crisis wouldn’t exist. Instead of dismissing an entire group of people just because they’re foreign to us, we should actively contribute to their well-being. Many of these individuals have the potential to contribute to society, even Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian refugee.

Austin is home to the largest refugee population in Texas, and if our university slogan is, “What starts here changes the world,” we ought to do our part to improve lives around the globe.

Saifullah is a neuroscience junior from Richardson. She is a senior columnist. Follow her on Twitter @coolstorysunao.