Being there at the camps, with the refugees
A poet once said, “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark”
Dubai-resident Nawar Ismail, whose name was changed for anonymity, would agree. Her family fled to Turkey in search of a better life when the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011. Others remained internally displaced in Syria.
Nawar’s case has proven common as a survey by NRS International recently showed that 1 in 4 people living in the UAE have family or friends affected by a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis.
Limited access to water and electricity obstructs communication between Nawar and her relatives.
Despite the hurdles, they still remain grateful for one thing: Survival. “They survived, and that is what matters,” she said.
The number of forcibly displaced people worldwide is approximately 60 million. One in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum.
|For refugee donation, contact
> Emirates Red Crescent
> Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF)
> Share The Meal initiative by United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)
The good news is, help is coming. The NRS International study showed that 73 per cent of UAE residents contributed to an international humanitarian cause in the past year, while 80 per cent are likely to continue their support in the coming year.
Rabha Saif Alam, Expert at Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Egypt, said the attention to refugee crisis “has significantly increased” with the number of conflicts affecting countries around the globe.
She added that a huge number of donations are from the UAE and GCC counties ranging from medicine, food, drugs to building hospitals and camps.
But the best solution, Alam pointed out, is encouraging the United Nations efforts to end conflicts that create crisis in the first place. “We can help, but we cannot solve a problem if we ignore its roots,” she said.
“I think I found my life’s passion,” said Dubai-based Deena Stevens of her volunteering experience. The 24-year-old was part of a group who worked on the Greek Island of Lesbos in December 2015. She helped at Stage 1, where they received 15 boats a day, each carrying 60-80 people.
“We never slept. Everyone got stressed and sick.”
But witnessing the death of a woman and her five-year-old child of hypothermia on a windy morning is what broke Stevens.
Volunteers blamed each other, and since Stevens was a graphic designer whose job was to raise awareness about hypothermia, she was not any different.
“I still see them in my dreams. When I walk into a cold air-conditioned building, I shiver as I remember the situation.”
As she came back to the UAE in March, Stevens took it upon herself to spread awareness through giving talks. She said helping refugees find houses instead of the horribly-conditioned tents is their ultimate need.
Currently collaborating with a camp and flying in to shoot documentaries, Stevens noted that getting involved in refugee crises is “addictive. It’s hard to break yourself away from it even when you’re overseas.”
Spread the cheer
Founders of Dubomedy comedy school Mina Liccione and her husband Ali Al Sayed echoed similar sentiments. Their volunteering project, Clowns Who Care, involves collecting needed supplies (blankets, powder milk, soccer balls, art and educational supplies for kids) and travelling to refugee camps in Syria and Jordan where they perform comedy shows and art workshops for a good cause. The couple is going again after Ramadan.
“People lived in tents made of rice bags in a small camp in Jordan,” Liccione said. “Yet, the kids could not stop playing and laughing. Their mothers served us food even when they had nothing.”
Al Sayed added that the lack of water and electricity, living under cracked ceilings that offered no protection during winter, and absence of education to kids were the hardest issues to come across.
“We have to know what they actually need. Ask the organisation you deal with about their needs before you donate,” he said.
While survival is critical in old camps in Jordan, bigger camps that fit thousands of refugees “definitely need access to educational programs,” said Liccione.
She added: “It is the most intense and unforgettable experience one can go through. You never watch the news the same way again because you saw reality.”
Susan Smith, Mass Communication professor at the American University of Sharjah and cofounder of Speak Trauma, said her team is currently crowdfunding for a documentary and storytelling summer workshop at a school for Syrian refugees in Turkey.
Speak Trauma involves helping refugees tell their own stories through documentaries since “talking about pain is the first step toward healing.”
“They need to speak out their own losses and tears instead of the exceptional stories portrayed in the media,” said Smith who will travel to Turkey in summer.
“Let’s reinforce the children because they are the future.”