Over the past several years traveling in the region, I've come to realize that addressing the Syrian Conflict involves political, military and humanitarian issues. The first two have consumed international energies for years now, but political confusion and gridlocked regional interests cannot be allowed to take our attention away from the humanitarian crisis - and especially not from the children.  We must take action to address the refugee crisis, both because it is humane and moral, and because we either pay now or pay much more later.  Abandoned, unemployed, and increasingly desperate youth, seeking any sense of community, are easy targets for ISIS and other terrorist organizations.

In 2010, I traveled in Syria with my family and was there again when the conflict began in 2011, when "only" 26 people had been killed in Daraa.  I spent time in markets in Damascus and Aleppo that now no longer exist, as well as the now destroyed archeological ruins in Palmyra.  More tragically, many of the people I met and visited with have either been killed or are now refugees.  The numbers are staggering.  More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed since the conflict began. Syrians now represent the largest refugee population in the world.  4 million have left the country and 8 million are internally displaced, a total of over half the pre-war population of the country.  Neighboring countries are overwhelmed.  Syrian refugees now represent almost a third of Lebanon's and a quarter of Jordan's populations.  In contrast, the US has admitted fewer than 1,000 Syrian refugees.

This year, spending time in the Syrian refugee communities of Turkey and Jordan, the most common question I hear from refugees is "Why do they hate us?", referring to a feeling of being completely abandoned and forgotten by the world.  I provide the very unsatisfactory answer that the situation is complex and people don't know exactly what to do, so feel paralyzed and do nothing, but that there are people who care and are trying to help.

I've been involved with the Karam Foundation creating a computer lab at Al Salam School in Reyhanli, Turkey and talking with a range of students about kNOw THEM.  Karam provides health and emotional support as well as enrichment programs for Syrian refugee children. In order to share our experiences, Patty and I have written articles, Challenging Stereotypes with Syrian Refugee Children in Turkey (Dick Simon) and What I Learned Making Instant Hug Machines for Syrian Kids (Patty Simon).  I've also been involved with a fantastic documentary, Salam Neighbor, which humanizes the crisis through the stories of several individuals living in the Za'atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. 
Although the problem is in many ways overwhelming, small actions can make a huge difference in the lives of real people. If you're interested in finding out more, some of the great organizations we've been involved with include: International Medical Corps, Karam Foundation, Mercy Corps, Salam Neighbor, and UNHCR.  If you're interested in helping to create a documentary about Syria's national wrestling champion now living in Jordan's Za'atari refugee camp, visit the Hope Amid Despair in Jordan Kickstarter page.

Dick Simon

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