As Syria enters its sixth year in conflict and particularly Aleppo experiencing months of a disheartening humanitarian disaster, global solidarity pours out and many (if not all) feel that we are losing our humanity simply by seeing that not enough is being done to protect basic human rights. I know it is easy to skim over an article like this as we can feel helpless and overwhelmed with the news, but I encourage you to stay, read, and engage. Being a community of people at The Sophie Hayes Foundation moved by compassion to join the fight against human trafficking, it is in the same vein, flowing from the same life source that we take the not-on-our-watch stance, and let the anger of these atrocities fuel a love that is powerful enough to shake and disrupt injustice of every kind. We know what it looks like when a woman’s right is violated time after time and we strive to do everything we can to create awareness and rebuild what has tried to be destroyed. We are seeing the same in conflict zones, and at the center of the injustices are children.
On November 20, 1989, the UN Convention of the Rights of a Child were defined:
Our Rights; Our Lives…
The right to protection from discrimination
The right to life, survival and development
The right to express his or her views freely and to be heard
The right to identify
The right to protection from all forms of violence
The right to special protection and help if they are refugees
The right to education
The right to relax and play and join recreational activities
The right to protection from work that is dangerous or might harm his or her health or education
The right to protection from exploitation
The right to special protection in times of war
One night while I was sitting on my sofa, winding down from my day watching a national news program, there was a story about a 7-year old girl named Bana Alabed who has been documenting life in Aleppo since September. The Twitter account quickly gained a global audience by tweets detailing the daily fears, hopes and frustrations of Bana, her family and her community. Tens of thousands of people, including myself, started following her account managed by her mother. Reading the tweets from the 7-year-old quickly reminded me how the rest of the world does not live in the same comfort Westerners have gotten used to and even expect. One of Bana’s latest tweets reads, “Dear world, there’s intense bombing right now. Why are you silent? Why? Why? Why?”
The realities of conflict by putting a face and name to a number is sobering. A little girl with a soft voice and long brown pig tails who has tweeted “Final message- people are dying since last night. I am very surprised I am tweeting right now & still alive” is nothing short of arduous. It’s estimated that 1.5 million people, many of whom are children, are still trapped in the regime-held parts of Aleppo, according to the United Nations. I look at Bana’s videos and pictures and see a 7-year-old version of myself, my future daughter, someone’s daughter, a girl loved who should never have to worry about the safety of her family and her own life- a girl who in my culture should be going holiday shopping with her mother and taking the obligatory photo with Santa Claus (a rite of passage for every American kid); only to look back 20 years later and laugh at their haircuts and holiday outfits. She shouldn’t be concerned with whether or not she will even live to see a world 20 years from now.
So what can we do in this situation, in our own cities with land, sea, and more land separating our world from another’s?
- Know that distance, government, culture, experience, poverty, and war does not separate us. Our humanity is what joins us.
- We can support organizations on the ground in Syra (Doctors Without Borders, Syrian American Medical Society, The IRC (International Rescue Committee), Save The Children, and more).
- Support Refugees
- Start a movement. People from all over the world have taken to the streets to demand action from local officials and have even started campaigns to raise donations and awareness.
- Don’t look away- even if all you can do is pray.
I am not just challenging you, but I am challenging myself. From human trafficking to conflict zones, the world is watching; will we be a people who take the stance and say, “Not on my watch”?
With love and light,
Nikki Mata | Los Angeles, CA