Five years ago marked the start of a significant, and personal, new beginning. In 2011 I needed change. I craved a new challenge and I quickly took action. That year I redirected the course of my journey and packed up to move from home and begin a life of travel in pursuit of making meaningful connections in the world. I have since worked overseas, lived in foreign countries, become an expat in a new culture, and struggled all along the way. Yet, all of this by choice.
For hundreds of thousands of men, women and children on the other side of the world, this passing of time holds a different significance. This March marks the fifth year of the war in Syria, which has led to the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. As the conflict drags on, children and their families face new struggles every day. Their challenges and new reality persist, albeit not by choice.
It’s heartbreaking to hear stories and see photos of children who have been uprooted from their lives at the cost of war. The feeling of helplessness after learning of such loss and tragedy can be even more overwhelming. What can I do to help from the other side of the world? How can my involvement make an impact?
The truth is, you can make a difference, and it starts with a simple letter.
CARE is a global humanitarian organization that fights poverty by empowering girls and women. They have also been supporting child refugees for over 70 years, beginning with those who were displaced during World War II. After reaching over 2 million Syrians with humanitarian relief in the form of food, shelter, and hygiene kits, they realized there was something more they could offer: hope.
Looking to send words of encouragement and support, CARE invited former WWII child refugees, the first-ever CARE package recipients, to write letters sharing their own experience and messages of comfort and reassurance. The resulting connections between distance and decades are deeply moving and inspiring.
I was particularly touched by the story of Gunter and Zaher.
Gunter is a 78-year-old former child refugee from Germany. For years he lived in a Russian-controlled camp before his family was brought to East Berlin where they escaped and illegally crossed the border to the west. They spent two years in a refugee camp before Gunter was able to immigrate to the U.S. fourteen years later. His best friends became those who sent him letters through CARE while he was a refugee.
Zaher is an 8-year-old Syrian refugee who fled with his family to Jordan. Since moving, his father said Zaher has become withdrawn and doesn’t engage with people as much as he used to. “Living through this war has affected his psychological state so much,” he said.
When Zaher opened the CARE package sent by Gunter, full of school supplies and paper airplanes, he was overjoyed. He was excited to read his letter and learn that someone in America enjoys animals just as much as he does.
The connection these two strangers have is powerful. It reminds me that we are all in this world together, and are better off helping one another and caring for our neighbors near and far, through thick and thin.
(Read more about Zahir and Gunter’s story here.)
I was also touched by the story of Sajeda (pictured above in the first photo) and Helga. Sajeda is a 16-year-old who left her home behind after survival became difficult in her town where barrel bombings intensified.
“When someone asks me, ‘What is the most precious thing you left behind in Syria?’ I say that I left myself.”
Eighty-seven-year-old Helga sent her story of shared pain and a life disrupted by air raids and bombs over 70 years ago. Her advice reminded Sajeda that she is not alone. “Helga made me feel like I exist,” she said.
(Read more about Sajeda and Helga’s story here.)
These letters are so important because they are not only delivering hope to those who need uplifting encouragement to carry them through another day, it is the greatest way we can learn and grow from these devastating circumstances. Compassion is the greatest gift we can give and receive.
HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED:
Write a letter of hope to a Syrian child refugee and brighten their day with words of encouragement. With just a few minutes of your time, you can make a lasting connection that impacts a child’s outlook on their future.
Here is the letter I sent to a Syrian child refugee:
Hi! My name is Jessica. I am from the United States but I live in the country of Bolivia, all the way down in South America. I too am a long way from home! For me, the hardest part about living in a new country is learning a new language and making friends. I have practiced and practiced by reading books and talking to everyone I meet on the street so it has become a lot easier to call this country home. When I am having a hard time or am struggling because I miss my family in the U.S., I like to read books because the stories make me feel like I am not alone. You are not alone. I am praying for your happiness and am sending you a warm abrazo (that means “hug” in Spanish!). Stay strong and remember you have a friend on the other side of the world thinking about you.
You can also support children and families through the donation of a CARE package. Packages include food supplies and hygiene kits that are then distributed to refugees and their families.
If you would like to further contribute to CARE’s mission in humanitarian aid, you can make a financial contribution in which CARE, on your behalf, will support education, small businesses, clean water resources, and emergency aid in struggling communities worldwide.
Please take a moment to spread the word and encourage others to get involved. Show your support and solidarity #WithSyria by using the aforementioned hashtag and sharing the CARE “Special Delivery” campaign on social media.
“No matter how bad things may seem, there are good people in this world who can make everything better.” – Gunter Nitsch