06/20/2015 11:59 EDT | Updated 06/20/2016 05:59 EDT

Thinking Twice About Syrian Children This World Refugee Day


By Suzy Sainovski, World Vision International

On this World Refugee Day almost four million Syrian refugees, equivalent to the populations of Toronto and Montreal combined, are far from home and wondering if they will ever return to the life they knew. The Syrian crisis is the largest humanitarian crisis of the 21st century, and its impact is being felt disproportionately by the millions of affected children.

One of my World Vision colleagues spoke with a 13-year-old Syrian girl named Reem. She told him: "Can you put us on TV? Can you tell everyone? Maybe the world will help us."

We're trying Reem. We're really trying.

Trying to keep people caring

The challenge, of course, is to find ways to explain why the public should continue to care about this complex and difficult situation, which has persisted for more than four years. It's not easy. But we do have some good news stories to tell.

World Vision has already reached some two million Syrian refugees, internally displaced people and vulnerable host community members in Jordan, Lebanon, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and within Syria itself. We're providing a wide range of humanitarian assistance including food, water, sanitation, health care and household supplies for families. We're hosting child-friendly spaces for young children to give opportunities to learn and play, as well as funding remedial education efforts for older children who have had their schooling disrupted.

But these efforts pale in the face of growing needs.

The world is fatigued by the overwhelming suffering that continues, with no end in sight. Here in Jordan, where I am based, we've heard the same types of stories from refugees told time and time again -- families who have lost loved ones, people who fled the fighting for fear of their lives, refugees living in less than ideal accommodation, children missing out on years of education and children forced to work or marry to help their families survive.

Natural vs. man-made disasters

If a natural disaster struck yesterday and hundreds of thousands of people died, houses crumbled, schools collapsed, children were separated from their parents and 14 million people were displaced, the world would stand up and take notice. Newspaper, radio and television outlets and the Internet would be exploding with headlines, calling for action and demanding that the international community step up to help the survivors rebuild their lives. And people around the world would read the headlines and the stories, reach deep into their pockets and give generously.

But for the Syrian crisis, this simply hasn't happened, at least not to the extent it's needed. Some studies, such as this recent one from the U.K.'s University of London, indicate that people are more likely to give to a relief effort following a natural disaster than they are to a man-made crisis, particularly one where military activities are involved.

If this is you, I challenge you to look into your own heart, and ask yourself whether children like Reem are to blame for the conflict in Syria. A Syrian child who fled the war in August 2012, the year after the fighting started, has now endured more than a thousand nights away from home.

Imagine if that child was you. You'd have now spent more than a thousand nights sleeping in a strange place, enduring blistering hot summers and freezing cold winters. You may have been woken, screaming, as dreams took you back to the day that rockets smashed your neighborhood to pieces. A thousand days without seeing your closest friends and community members, and the teacher you looked up to. Maybe even a thousand days without school.

Please think twice about the ongoing humanitarian crisis affecting Syrian refugees, where children are just as tired, just as hungry and just as terrified as children in any other crisis making headlines around the world today.

Suzie Sainovsky is communications director for World Vision International's response to the Syria crisis

Help Syrian children through World Vision's Raw Hope initiative


Children In Refugee Camps