Refugees are people. It can be easy to forget, until you witness their struggles firsthand. Mothers, husbands, grandparents, children ” families not so different from ours ” displaced by conflict in Syria.
This post is not about luxurious places or things, but instead the luxury of being able to help our fellow humans in crisis. I’d like to share with you what happened when I was confronted by the stark reality of a group of people I’d only ever seen on the news, and how that experience moved me to action.
My new wife, Pooneh, and I had our hearts set on visiting Turkey for our honeymoon, well before news broke of instability in the region. Although we were warned against going, we felt that our diligent research would prepare us ” or so we thought.
When we first arrived in Istanbul, the ancient metropolis was stunning, bustling and clean ” alleviating any fears we had. We were eager tourists, mesmerized by the grand mosques, Topkapi Palace and the Basilica Cistern. That evening, we enjoyed a romantic rooftop dinner, watching the sunset turn the iconic skyline ablaze with oranges and pinks.
Reality crashed back down on us when we met this family of Syrian refugees on the street. They looked exhausted. Their flip-flops had seen hundreds of miles. Their minimal sign said it all. I gave them what I had ” several Turkish lira. I could see the frustration and shame that receiving this gift caused the father, especially. As the family turned to leave, a silent look from my wife told me that I had to capture this moment ” their story needed telling.
I hesitated ” worried that I would only make the family feel worse by turning them into symbols of their plight. But looking into their eyes, I saw people ” not refugees. I asked them if I could take their photo, to share a few faces that would humanize their struggle.
Throughout our travels in Turkey and the Greek Islands, we were given fearful warnings about the refugees and urged to watch our bags. Syrian refugees crowded the streets, but it seemed so disrespectful to brand each of them as potential thieves. They are families, trying to get by in an alien country that doesn’t want them there. They’ve risked everything to come here, and many have been tragically lost along the way. They deserve compassion and respect, not to be swept under a rug.
Even in desperate times, I look for hope. I hope that my meager contribution helped that one family, even if just for one night. I hope that they’re able to get back on their feet, and find homes and employment to support their family. I hope that they can return to their homeland someday soon. And I hope that seeing these photos will help others see refugees as people, too.
I know that I can’t personally solve the Syrian Crisis. It is a complex political situation that I can’t expect to fully do justice to here on my blog. It’s easy to feel helpless when faced with such a big problem. Many people do nothing, believing that their small contribution is worthless in the grand scheme of things.
The truth is, every small contribution helps. When you donate to a respected aid organization, your donations are pooled with other donations. This is how I plan to continue helping the families that I met, and the millions of other refugees in similar situations. Will you join me?
Let’s all embrace the luxury of giving.