2011 was the year I joined Islamic Relief USA. 2011 is also the same year that conflict erupted in my mother and father’s native Syria. Year after year of the conflict, the death and displacement of my people would only increase exponentially as time passed. First with Syrians pouring into neighboring countries like Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon to flee violence, and then expending to Europe and eventually even over the Atlantic ocean to America and Canada. With the massive exodus came huge media attention and much financial support to many humanitarian organizations trying to put a bandaid on the bleeding and lend a helping hand. Celebrities spoke out to bring light to the situation. The United Nations would go on to call it the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.
In the ensuing years I would visit and document Syrian refugees in seven nations they had been displaced in. I would hear horror stories of mothers who lost children in Jordan. I would see the pain and anguish on their faces in Lebanon. We would share smiles and laughs in my old school Shami accent that reminded them of home so far away in Iraq. I would help people off a boat on the shores of Greece. I would translate train routes in hopes of reuniting families in Germany. I would educate Syrians on the dynamic between their new home state New Jersey and my home state of New York.
I have seen much but it pales in comparison to what my people have witnessed and experienced.
Time kept passing, the years kept stacking up. At two years, the conflict was still fresh in our minds and there was a passion to help. At four years, the problem had reached an enormous magnitude that the world had to react to as we asked everybody to ‘Pay Attention’. At five years, we stopped counting the years because we ran out of fingers on one hand to count them. And now at six years, I can’t help but feel like we have turned the corner and the world is tired of hearing about Syrians and their problems.
It’s the same old song, the same situation, with no end in sight, with numbers too big to comprehend. We have given money, we have shed tears, we have done the challenges, we have attended the events, we have watched the videos, shared the posts. We are tired. The humanitarian organizations are tired of asking and the people are tired of giving. Almost too tired to keep caring at a sustained level. It has been emotionally exhausting.
But then I stop to think: if we are too tired to care, just how tired my Syrian people must be of their own situation. How tired they must be of moving and traveling from place to place. How tired they must be of hearing about lost family members. How tired they must be after being knocked down, and how tired they must be getting back up over and over again.
I sit here in deep reflection on the eve of March 15th, six years to the day that all the chaos began, and two days before I embark on yet another journey to visit my people. As I pack my things to lead a team to Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, yet again I begin to reflect on all those previous trips and I wonder what difference have we made and what would be the price of our indifference.
Then I begin to remember all those people I’ve met and photographed: Shaza, Atta, Ahmed, Umm Omar and so many others. Their faces and stories etched in my memory forever. I begin to remember all those people we have helped feed and keep warm in the winter. They are the reason I can’t be too tired to travel. They are the reason I can’t stop asking you to pay attention. They are the reason we can’t stop asking you to donate. The price of our fatigue is putting all these people and the millions like them at risk. At risk for starvation, at risk for disease, and worse, at risk of being forgotten.
So for all of them, my brothers and sisters from my beloved Syria, I say:
I will not forget you, I will continue to care about you and try my hardest to stop others from forgetting you no matter how tired we get.