A Practical Response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

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On Stacy Boulevard in Gloucester, Massachusetts there is a bronze statue dedicated to the women and children left behind when fishermen lost their lives to the sea. I saw this statue today and my mind traveled immediately to the women and children of Iraq and Syria, those casualties of war who are trying to find refuge around the world.

Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”*

Two years ago: My husband left for Eastern Turkey and the Syrian border on Friday from Logan International Airport. As I was getting ready to fly out from Mumbai, he was heading across the ocean in the opposite direction.

The trip came up unexpectedly and will be a quick one – in and out with medical supplies and more to drop off with organizations that are working with refugees. The hope is that he and the man who he is traveling with will be better equipped to funnel emergency supplies to those that most need them, as well as to engage with key personnel on the ground who are able to help.

AT THE TIME WHEN I FIRST WROTE THIS, over 2 million refugees had fled into surrounding countries. NOW, THE NUMBER TOPS 11 MILLION. The number is staggering and resources in the countries of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq are strained.

Refugee camps will break your heart and then mend it in a matter of seconds: Break your heart for the need, mend it with the picture of redemptive resilience.  I am anxiously waiting his return with hopes that we can do more in the future to help.

But in the mean time there are hygiene and baby care supply kits that are practical and easy to assemble.  They are gathered by either International Orthodox Christian Charities or Church World Service and disseminated to Syrian refugees in various parts of the world.  It’s something that any of us can do. We can make them if we’re alone, we can make them with our families, and we can make them with a church community or a neighborhood. It just takes the proper supplies and an assembly line type of process. In the words of my husband these are “vital, vital, vital” to the ongoing crisis of housing and caring for refugees.

I’ve included the link here to learn more about making these kits but to make it easier, here is what you need: (Important note – don’t add anything to the kits, make them exactly as instructed) 

To assemble a Baby Care Kit you will need:

  • Six cloth diapers
  • Two T-shirts or undershirts (no onesies)
  • Two washcloths
  • Two gowns or sleepers
  • Two diaper pins
  • One sweater or sweatshirt (Can be handknitted or crocheted)
  • Two receiving blankets (one can be a hand-knitted or crocheted baby blanket)

Items must be new and under 12 months in size. Wrap items inside one of the receiving blankets and secure with both diaper pins. Click here or here for further instructions!

To assemble a Hygiene Kit you will need:

  • One hand towel measuring approximately 16″ x 28″ (no fingertip or bath towels)
  • One washcloth
  • One wide-tooth comb
  • One nail clipper
  • One bar of soap (bath size in wrapper)
  • One toothbrush (in original packaging)
  • Six standard size Band-Aids®

Place all items in a one-gallon plastic bag with a zipper closure, remove excess air from bag, and seal. Please do not add toothpaste to the Hygiene Kit. Cartons of toothpaste that have an extended expiration date will be added to Hygiene Kit shipments just before shipment. Click here or here for further instructions!

Another suggestion: Hold a “Refugee Awareness” night at your church. You can find facts and figures at UNHCR to give people a sense of the scope of the problem. Have them bring items for the kits and make them right there.

For more information including how to mail the kits please go either of these websites: http://www.iocc.org/kits.aspx or http://www.cwsglobal.org/get-involved/kits/

IMPORTANT LINKS:

Update September 7,2015: Make sure you check any charity you give to through this Charity Navigator so you can ensure your donation is spent well. Here are the top rated sites for giving to Syria!

Two smaller groups that donate directly to those in need with almost no overhead costs are Nu Day Syria and Conscience International.

I look forward to hearing from many of you as to how it worked to make these and who you got together to assemble them. Do you have other ideas? Would love to hear some of them through the comments!

*Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision on the fly leaf of his Bible

Communicating Across Cultures Through ESL

Today’s guest blog is by Jessica Stamper. Jessica has a heart for people of different backgrounds and cultures, finding a myriad of ways to connect with them. Best of all, she has found a way to communicate across cultural boundaries just 15 minutes from her house. Read on….

I stepped out of my vehicle and onto the sidewalk. The strange smells and unfamiliar faces left me with a terrible desire to run – but I couldn’t run. What kind of volunteer gives up on the first day? And besides, it seemed as if the whole street already knew I was there. Strange faces appeared at the doors as I walked down the street, clutching my book bag. As I said hello, I got the distinct feeling they didn’t speak English. This was going to be scarier than I had thought. Three more doors, and I’d be at the address my contact had given me. I scanned the street, desperately hoping to see the American who had promised to introduce me to the Nepali family that I would be teaching. Not a sign of her – and for that matter, not an American anywhere!

I didn’t even have a chance to knock on the door before it was thrown open, and a smiling Nepali lady motioned for me to come in. I was taken aback by her kind welcome. She smiled, and her cheerful, sweet spirit melted the fear that gripped my heart. And then … she walked out the door, leaving me standing in her living room with numerous Nepali family members who spoke absolutely no English. My terror was mounting by the minute.

Manisha, the oldest member of the family, stood and greeted me in the traditional Nepali manner – palms together, “Namaste.” She smiled. I greeted her in English, though I was acutely aware she didn’t understand a word of what I said. Sameer, the only person present who spoke any English, motioned for me to take a seat, and I did so gladly.

After several times of introducing myself to the constant stream of Nepali relatives, the three girls whom I was assigned to teach arrived home from school. They were all smiles, but quite unsure about this new, very white teacher who spoke so strangely. But before long, we were paging through their readers, sounding out English words.

Bimla – the youngest of the three girls – wiggled closer to me, and put her hand on my arm, questioning. I noticed for the first time the henna designs on her hands and arms – beautiful, intricate drawings. “How you say? Ephelant? Yes?” I corrected her, and we sounded out the word together.

All too quickly, the girls finished their homework, and it was time for me to head home again. Rather than feeling relief that it was over, I found myself wishing I didn’t have to leave! Manisha and her older daughter and three little girls all crowded around the door, eager to see me off. Smiling and waving, their love for me – a perfect stranger! – humbled me and melted my heart.

Throughout the evening, I had become aware that I really, truly loved these girls. I loved these people. True, I was terrified. The language, culture and traditions were so foreign to me. It was terrifying to realize that, suddenly, I was the foreigner in a strange culture! But the rewards of loving, of giving, were so overwhelming. These refugees had become my friends.

Loving others – our friends, neighbors, church people, refugees – is risky. We run the risk of rejection, of misunderstanding, of uncomfortable situations. But when we’re willing to reach out in love, the rewards are great and the joy is overwhelming. Even if we have to push past our fears, and be willing to reach out of our cultural cocoon, it’s worth it.

I may never be able to fully communicate with my Nepali friends. I may never be able to share the joy of the incredible Treasure I have found in Jesus Christ, in words that they can understand. But love needs no language; love is not bound by cultural boundaries. Let’s take the risk, and love fully and deeply. I think we’ll find it the most rewarding thing we’ve spent our lives on, if we only step out and love the people around us.

More about the author:

Jessica is a seamstress by trade and lives in Eastern Pennsylvania where she enjoys working in two local cities among people from various cultures, languages and religions. She is part of an urban children’s ministry, and a volunteer with Church World Service. Jessica loves children, and enjoys language learning, cross-cultural work, writing, and above and in all that, serving and loving Jesus. Jessica blogs at http://jessica-delightingingod.blogspot.com/.