One of our staff traveled to Lebanon recently to meet with journalists covering the Syrian refugee crisis … and met a challenge she didn’t expect.
Today, meet one little girl whose simple act of beauty inspired a World Vision writer to move past the headlines and see the heart in the Syria conflict.
A few weeks ago, I met a little girl named Alia. Her nose was dotted with freckles and her beautiful red hair ran down her back in a braid I’m certain her mother had lovingly done earlier that morning.
Alia and I sat on the floor of her home, and I watched as she shyly pulled a bottle of bright red nail polish from a shelf above the television. She looked at my friend Patricia, and Patricia nodded knowingly as Alia slowly started painting her nails with the quick, imprecise brush strokes of an 8-year-old girl.
Patricia laughed as she held up her hands for Alia and me to see. Her nails—and her fingers—were covered in red polish, but Alia was smiling from ear to ear at her accomplishment. For a moment, I forgot where we were.
Alia and I were sitting on the floor of her family’s tent in Lebanon, 70 miles from Syria, one of the most dangerous countries in the world. 18 months ago, Alia and her family—two brothers and her parents—had fled for their lives as bombs and bullets whizzed past their heads, and they made it safely here to one of the communities where World Vision is working with Syrian refugees.
“We left Syria with only our clothes on,” Alia’s mother, Manal, told me. “We left under the bombs and snipers. My children were terrified. My husband tried to return to get some of our things, but they [soldiers] wouldn’t let him.”
Things had been difficult for the family as they tried to settle into their new community in Lebanon, but they had made it to Lebanon together and alive, and they were grateful.
But in December, Alia’s older brother Hussein traveled back to Syria with his uncle to visit their grandfather. While he was there, the Lebanese government closed the border with Syria, and he was trapped.
Alia hasn’t seen her brother in more than 6 months. When they’re able to reach him on a cell phone, Alia and her other brother, Mahmud, cry as they hear Hussein’s voice.
“My heart is aching,” said Manal as tears rolled down her face. “It always feels like something is missing, especially when they [my other children] go to sleep.”
No one knows when they’ll be able to see Hussein again.
* * *
My job at World Vision is to get people to listen up, take notice, and be moved to action about the tragedies taking place every day in our world. Sex trafficking. Child soldiers. Natural disasters. War. Famine. My team searches out stories like Alia’s in the farthest corners of the world—and then tries to convince journalists to cover these stories.
Sometimes, it’s a big story: the recent earthquake in Nepal or a visit from Prince William and Princess Kate to World Vision’s programs in the Solomon Islands. Other times, we’re just having fun (have you ever seen this video with the Harlem Globetrotters?) and we get to use those moments to help educate Americans about World Vision’s work.
But Syria is none of those things. It’s not fun. It’s not breaking news—the conflict has been going on for nearly five years. And it’s not a hot story. In fact, when I was in Beirut a few weeks ago, I met with nearly a dozen journalist who’ve been covering the war for the past five years, and over and over I heard the same thing from them: “We want to tell the stories of the refugees, but we just don’t know what to say anymore.”
What do you say to a world that’s tired of hearing Syria’s stories?
Those conversations with the journalists challenged me. I met Alia and her family. I saw the pain in their faces as they talked of fleeing for their lives and being separated from their family. I cried with Alia’s mother, Manal, as she remembered the last time she saw her son. I’d only been away from my daughter for a week, and I missed her like crazy. What would it be like to be away from her indefinitely and maybe never know if I’d even see her again? My heart broke.
Maybe you’re sitting at home on your laptop reading this or you’re on the train coming home from work checking news on your phone, and you want to care, but you’re not sure where to begin.
Could you agree to take on the challenge from the journalists I met and do this one thing today?
Just start here—or here—or here. Read. Pray. Share these stories. Take a few moments to think about little girls like Alia who are fleeing for their lives every day. Imagine what it’s like to be a refugee—and see if you would survive.
Earlier this week, the United Nations announced that there are now 4 million Syrian refugees who’ve left their country and are desperate for peace. That’s like the entire city of Los Angeles disappearing.
In December, one out of every four people in Lebanon were Syrian refugees. The number is likely higher now.
Stop and think about that for a minute.
Imagine walking down the street and 1 out of every 4 homes in your neighborhood are housing refugees from Canada or Mexico. The fathers don’t have jobs. The mothers can’t find enough food for their children. And children aren’t able to go to school. What would that do to you, as their neighbor? And how would it affect your community?
A pastor told us recently that when we talk about the Syrian crisis, it seems like a job for Secretary of State John Kerry to handle. But when we start to tell the stories of children like Alia and her brothers, it seems like a job for the church.
I’m going to take on the challenge the journalists gave me in Beirut. How can we together convince a world that’s tired of war to care about its children? It’s a big question with no easy answers, but I’m convinced we have to try.
Will you join me?
Read more stories about the Syrian Refugee Crisis.
Make a one-time donation to our Syrian Refugee Crisis Relief Fund to help provide essentials to children and families.