The Syrian conflict is now entering its seventh year, and its devastation is worse than ever. 2016 was the deadliest year for children: at least 652 died, and more than one-third of them were killed in, or near their schools.
I find it inconceivable that an entire generation of children has known nothing but war, insecurity, and bombing. I look at my four-year-old granddaughter and try to imagine her life if she had been born in Aleppo. It breaks my heart.
How can we let this happen?
We have a responsibility to support these children and ensure they have access to education. The war will end one day, but rebuilding Syria will be impossible if its youth cannot read, write, or do basic math.
One memory I always find deeply upsetting is of a 12-year-old girl I met in a refugee camp in Iraq. After three years without education, she had forgotten how to read.
As alarming as this is, UNICEF is working to provide children with access to education. UNICEF’s Makani centres in Jordan are a great example of programs that help children learn, play, and just be children. They are providing them with psychosocial support to help overcome their traumas. These centres have received significant assistance from the Canadian government. Canadian support is making a difference.
Let’s stand up to fear
Despite this hope, there is a current wave of pessimism and hate, resulting in a rejection of our brothers and sisters that seems to be spreading in too many countries around the world, not to mention right here, at home. We have given power, and a platform to people who advocate exclusion, and who would rather us close ourselves off than seek collective solutions. That is not the way to resolve a crisis like the one in Syria, especially since this movement toward rejection and negativity does not reflect what a majority of us feel. Our collective Canadian values are founded on compassion and inclusion.
And I can prove it: last year, people from coast to coast generously donated $31.8-million to the Syria Emergency Relief Fund in just six months, and the Canadian government matched that total.
Here is more proof: last year, we welcomed more than 40,080 Syrian refugees into our homes. Stories like the one that came out of Prince Edward Island—where communities rallied and spared no effort to welcome a Syrian family—are confirmation that to us, divisiveness and rejection are never the answer.
The strength of refugees
Syrian refugees in Canada, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon have shown remarkable strength. Beyond their will to survive, they are determined to one day go back home and rebuild their communities. Six years of bombing and violence have failed to crush that hope.
I was recently in Jordan, where I met a Syrian village elder living in a tent. He told me how he and his neighbours never thought the war would reach their tiny, remote, and inconspicuous village. But, on November 14, 2012, the war found them. Their village, their homes—everything—was destroyed. Yet, this man holds out hope that he will one day return and resume a life that was put on hold.
Thanks to the strength of these refugees, and of Syrian children and youth, peace can be restored and Syria rebuilt—but they will need help.
Canada has a role to play. The whole world is watching us to see how we open our arms to refugees, take part in humanitarian efforts, and enable youth to continue their education. All the more reason to continue our efforts.
Let us show that we can do far more united than divided.