5 ways to bring 'bayanihan' to war-torn Syria


Posted at Apr 30 2018 08:08 PM | Updated as of May 03 2018 11:18 AM

A child kisses a baby in a shelter in Nubul, northwest of Aleppo in Syria. UNHCR provides shelter and protection to the displaced people of Afrin in Nubul. Hameed Maarouf, UNHCR

Halfway across the globe, prospects for peace and stability remain elusive in Syria, as the number of families displaced by the world's largest humanitarian and refugee crisis continues to swell – most of them women, children and elderly desperate for help. 

Almost six million people have escaped Syria and sought refuge in neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, hoping to give their children a better future and a peaceful community to live in. Of this figure, 74 percent or more than four million are women, children and elderly. 

Despite the effort of host countries to accommodate Syrian students, around 731,000 are still out of school as their families could even barely afford basic food, shelter and health needs—most Syrian refugees live below the poverty line, with a daily budget of about P150 ($2.87) for each person.

In March 2018, the war in Syria entered into its 8th year, older than some of the Syrian children who were born during the conflict.

It is high time to take action, and express solidarity through "bayanihan," a Filipino custom which places value in demonstrating compassion and bearing one another's load. It has been instrumental in sparking camaraderie among community members, and has pulled many people through crises and calamities.

History can attest to the "bayanihan" spirit of Filipinos. The country did not hesitate to open its doors to Jews who were persecuted during the World War II, as well as to Vietnamese "boat people" who fled when conflict sparked in their country. In the local context, numerous homes and lives have been rebuilt through "bayanihan."

Displaced from Eastern Ghouta, many families are using UNHCR sheeting to set up makeshift tents. Bassam Diab, UNHCR

While the Philippines is thousands of kilometers away from war-torn Syria, there are ways for Filipinos to bring "bayanihan" to Syria, and show that they care. Here are some of them.

1. Donating

A humble donation of any amount can go a long way. One frappe costs around P150 per cup. Giving up a sweet treat for a month can allow one to amass about P4,500—which can go a long way in giving support for refugees.

Donations can be coursed through UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. A humble gift of P1,000 per month can actually provide three survivors with rescue kits containing blankets, towels, dry clothes, and other life-saving essentials. P800 per month can provide immediate medical assistance for two families, while P600 per month can help provide two families with Protection Packs containing hygiene and cleaning supplies that are vital for their health and dignity.

2. Organizing fundraising events

It is not easy to raise money for any cause, even to help innocents caught in a bloody conflict not of their making. Simply by helping others become more aware of refugees’ plight, and encouraging them to help, can go a long way. An event can be as simple as circulating donation boxes among a person’s workplace, or organize garage sales and weekend markets for the benefit of refugees. Events such as these will not only gather donations, but also raise awareness for those affected by the Syrian conflict.

3. Supporting efforts of brands and non-government groups

The efforts of influential brands can significantly help in bringing awareness about programs to benefit Syrian refugees. Concerned individuals can support efforts of brands such as UNIQLO and The Café Mediterranean, to ensure that their money and time will go to the right beneficiaries and will not be misused by people who are not actually running legitimate initiatives.

UNIQLO and The Café Mediterranean collaborate with organizations such as UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, to generate support and donations from customers. Donors can be sure that their help will go directly to those in need.

4. Touching base with like-minded people 

In doing charity work, it can be good to be surrounded by like-minded people who believe in the same advocacy, to exchange ideas on best practices. Upcoming coffee talks with UNHCR allow advocates to conduct dialogues with others who support humanitarian efforts, as well as those who work directly with affected communities in Syria and ensure that refugees will be able to get the most help they can.

Follow the UNHCR Philippines Facebook page or add your name and stand #WithRefugees to receive updates on events and coffee talks organized by the UN Refugee Agency.

5. Signing up for updates and spreading the word

Information is treasure, and is a valuable asset. Simply signing up to receive information straight from people deployed in Syria can help refugees, because it means that their stories will continue to be heard.

It’s important for affected families to know that their stories are being heard. By continuing to receive and spread their stories, we can demonstrate to families forced to flee that we stand in solidarity with them and that they are not forgotten.

By doing these five things, you can bring the “bayanihan” spirit to Syria, and extend lifelines to millions of displaced families who are struggling day by day. It’s time to take action.

Visit www.unhcr.org/ph for more information on how you can donate, get involved, and participate in the global “bayanihan” for Syria. Donations towards helping victims of the Syrian emergency can also be made through the UNHCR Philippines’ website.

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