Raising Awareness and Funds for Syrian Children

Panel at McGill Discusses the Need for More Aid in War-Torn Country

Ghina Safadi, co-founder of Syrian Kids Foundation, speaks at McGill for UNICEF Week. Photo Cecile Amiot

Local Syrian activists called for more support in raising funds and awareness about the crisis faced by civilians and children in Syria at a panel discussion held at McGill last Thursday as part of UNICEF Week.

The Syrian civil war began with discontented citizens protesting against Bashar al-Assad’s presidential regime as part of the 2011 Arab Spring movement. These protests were met with violent backlash from the government and the ongoing conflict has resulted in over 200,000 casualties and a monumental refugee crisis.

Before the civil war officially began, there had been violations of rights of expression, assembly and more in Syria, says McGill professor Julie Norman. Norman, a specialist in Middle East Studies, peacebuilding and human rights, outlined the civil war and its history.

Since the start of the war, Syria has seen violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, the targeting of innocent civilians, torture, mass arrests and mass disappearances.

Norman says over 3 million Syrians have fled the country; in the neighbouring country of Lebanon alone, approximately one in four people are refugees. This flood of desperate Syrians, she claims, is a huge strain on neighbouring states.

Faisal Alazem, the director of the Syrian Canadian Council in Montreal and a co-founder of the Syrian Kids Foundation, says the internally displaced are vulnerable because there’s little international humanitarian or UN presence in the war zone. According to Norman’s research, there are approximately 6.5 million internally-displaced people in the country.

Alazem continued by discussing a common reluctance from the public to aid victims of man-made conflict as compared to victims of natural disasters. He said the Humanitarian Coalition has succeeded in raising approximately $550,000 for Syria, yet contrasted this with the $15.2 million that they collected following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

According to Alazem’s experience, there is a rampant view of the Middle East as a hopelessly violent region. He urged the panel’s audience to focus not only on politics but also on human suffering.

Ghina Safadi, another co-founder of the Syrian Kids Foundation, spoke about her foundation’s work in Turkey. The Syrian Kids Foundation school, Al-Salam, is supported entirely by donations and offers free education to approximately 2,000 refugees.

Safadi said that out of the 1 million displaced in Turkey, approximately 795,000 of them are school-aged children. According to her, it’s essential to invest in the present of the refugee children in order to cultivate, encourage and foster a brighter future for Syria.

To Safadi and her team, encouraging a hopeful worldview and empowering individuals will aid in making a democratic society a feasible reality. The potential, negative backlash caused by the violence, hatred and trauma that these children experienced is something the foundation hopes to prevent with their work.

Faisal Alazem quoted UNICEF to say that Syrian children are “a lost generation,” being forced into survival mode over anything else, but his foundation hopes to counter this with hope and healing. To them, teaching critical thinking, independence and the courage to speak up is part of building ideal adults that will be able to affect change in the world and the future of the conflict.