American children make Christmas cards for a four-year-old Syrian refugee.
This holiday season, let's challenge ourselves and our families and friends to demonstrate love, care, and simple humanity to those in harm's way around the world.
The war in Syria has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced millions, yet in the United States, most of what we see of the conflict comes in waves of viral social media posts, including the haunting image of a shell-shocked boy in an ambulance; heart-wrenching tweets from a 7-year-old girl name Bana Alabed and her mother, Fatemah; and a series of 'goodbye messages' from Aleppo residents uncertain of their futures as their city began to crumble under government attack.
The images are bloody, graphic, and full of death and terror. Buildings crumble and innocent victims are shown stuck under large masses of debris. Fathers and mothers carry deceased children out of rubble. Men and women in white helmets pull bodies from the dust. This is not a world anyone wishes to live in.
As this year comes to an end and the horror continues for displaced Syrians and those who remain after their family and friends have been taken from them, I put out a call for simple humanity. I challenge every person, big and small, to find a way to promote peace and freedom, for Syrians and everyone around the world.
Finding a Way to Help
If you search, you will find a way to contribute to peace, happiness, and love in Syria and elsewhere.
Seeing the Syrian government's unfettered violence towards civilians, my family and I were, at first, uncertain how we could contribute. After all, Syria is far from home, and we hadn't researched which organizations are on the ground providing aid.
We couldn't just sit by and watch a genocide unfold, though. We put out a call for answers and ideas, and we were met with an unexpected challenge. A friend and colleague told us that his family, located in northern France, had taken in a family of Syrian refugees -- a mother, father, and child -- and would be grateful for any support. The parents were seeking work and their four-year-old son would be delighted to receive clothes or toys.
It's now been three months, and we've helped their family find part-time work, translating website copy from English to Arabic, and we learned that they celebrate Christmas and sent them warmth and love in the form of gifts and homemade Christmas cards.
The Kindness of Children
Handmade cards were sent to warm the heart of one Syrian child this Christmas.
As we've found ways to uplift this Syrian family, we've been humbled by those around us who have so quickly jumped in to help. In particular, we worked with 75 generous and thoughtful children from our community to send handmade Christmas cards to the family's four-year-old son, Elyas.
With the support of teachers, administrators, and parents from two local schools -- Howard Perrin Elementary in Benton, Arkansas and eStem Elementary Public Charter School in Little Rock, Arkansas -- we visited classrooms to enlist the help of young hearts, including students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
We taught the children about the perils of war, introduced them to the Syrian conflict, and shared the story of Elyas and his family as refugees who had one hour to flee their home in Homs, Syria. The children filled cards with heartwarming wishes for Elyas and his family, made him snowflakes, and assured him he has friends in America who wish him well.
Two Arkansas elementary schools collaborated to make and send 75 cards to a four-year-old Syrian refugee.
"What's his favorite color?" one girl ask me as she chose a marker to color in a present she was drawing on her handmade card. "Does he like soccer?" another girl asked, tugging my sweater. "Should I draw a T-Rex or a Stegosaurus?" the boy next to her chimed in.
In a world where adults put quotas on refugees seeking shelter, these cards showed the kindness and sweetness of children. "I hope you have a very happy Christmas. Don't worry!" one card from a boy named Presley implored. "Moving CAN be very scary, but there is nothing to worry about. I hope you have a merry Christmas in France!"
Another card from a girl called Bekah was decorated with handmade, glued-on snowflakes and said, among other notes: "Is it snowing in France? It does not snow much here." At its simplest, humanity means connecting, even on the weather!
The children asked us why the war was going on. They asked why Elyas and his family were in France, of all places; they wondered if any refugees had come to America. They showed genuine care for this young boy they had never met, and they poured their hopes and good wishes into cards that Elyas opened and read this week.
A Challenge for All
Our world is not always equal. Some people face trauma and unfair violence. For those of us fortunate to be in safety, it is our duty as world citizens to protect and lift those in need.
I grew up in poverty most of my childhood, and I remember receiving a large bag of gifts from an anonymous family one Christmas morning. I was probably six or seven years old. My brother and I weren't expecting anything that Christmas, because we knew our family was facing hard times. We were uplifted, though, when met with the kindness of strangers, knowing that there was a family out there that cared enough to make a difference in our lives.
I'll never forget the feeling of hope I felt that morning. I was surprised and emotional that people we didn't even know cared enough about others to even think about helping. It was the action, and not the gifts themselves, that meant so much.
Today, my family and I do our best to lift those around us who are having hard times, because we've been there, too. We hope that more families around the world will step up to help others around them, as well.
If this story has touched you, I hope you'll accept this challenge to bring a touch of simple humanity to the world today, this week, or this coming year. Show a family in need that you care and that they matter. If you can make a difference for people in immediate harm's way, like displaced Syrian refugees, you will have shown them immense humanity, love, and care. But it doesn't take a deed from around the world to make a difference. There are probably people right in your community who could use a helping hand, and you could be the person to reach out.
To peace and freedom for all.