Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Tag: syria (page 1 of 13)

Free Hussein Ghrer

By now, it’s pretty apparent that the Syrian regime listens to no one.  And yet, as the friends I know who have spent time in Syrian prisons tell me, international attention does matter: it might help a blogger get better treatment, evade torture.

Hussein Ghrer has been held for nearly five months.  A campaign, launched yesterday, seeks to raise attention for his plight: Hussein has entered into a hunger strike and has a heart condition.  He has been held for far longer without referral to a court than the 60 days that Syrian law allows.  His friends and family are terrified.

Unlike Razan Ghazzawi, Anas Maarawi, and Bassel Khartabil (Safadi) detained before him, I don’t know Ghrer personally; we’ve never interacted.  Similarly, because he blogs primarily in Arabic, he has received far less attention than the others, and yet, his case is just as heartbreaking, and due to his health, perhaps more dire.

As my good friend Yazan Badran wrote:

Between them, many, faceless and nameless, have been detained, expelled and brutally murdered. Many that have not been given the honorary hashtag. Many that are being slowly broken in the dungeons of Syria’s own fascist incarnation. But make no mistake, we are by no means more free.

With every new detainee, our country, that idea of country, chokes a little bit more. With every new detainee, our own incarceration becomes a little tighter, and our exile a little less bearable. To liberate them is to deliver ourselves from this nightmare, and to bring back to this land its lifeline. Make no mistake, #FreeRazan, #FreeBassel or #FreeHusssein, all mean the same thing:

بدنا ياهن، بدنا الكل
We want them back, we want them all

And Ghrer now has a campaign, but there are still hundreds more–bloggers, citizen journalists, activists–whose names will go unspoken in the media, hundreds whose families may never even know their fate.

But for their sake, for the sake of all of these dedicated Syrian activists, let’s speak up when we can. When there’s a case to speak about, when we have the ability, let us not remain frozen merely because we will never be able to name them all.

Free Hussein.  Free Bassel.

UPDATED: One way to help Syria: Donate to Syrian refugees

Update 12/21: Some of the comments from donors below this post are worth reading.  Also, I’ve added UNICEF to the list of organizations at a reader’s recommendation.  Happy holidays, and thank you for giving to Syrians in need.

Recently, a friend from Latin America expressed her difficulty in following along with what’s happening in Syria, and wondered aloud if there was anything at all she could do to help. She, like me, has friends in Syria, but largely feels helpless living in a city without a strong Syrian community, where there are virtually no protests to join, no ways to locally reach out.

One way to help that has a low barrier to entry is by donating or volunteering with organizations working with Syrian refugees. I’ve seen a lot of tweets about different organizations, and while I’m sure all have the right intentions in mind, as someone who donates (small amounts) frequently to a variety of organizations (and also as someone who has worked in fundraising), there are a few things to look out for when selecting an organization. You want to be sure that the organization is registered, and has been vetted independently by Charity Navigator, Guidestar, or similar ranking systems. If I’m considering a regular or somewhat large donation (large for me is $200+, I work for a non-profit too!), I like to look at the public financial records of an organization to see how they spend their money. I’m also put off by organizations that send out a lot of paper (like the ACLU, which I am a donor to but which annoys me with their constant mailings and phone calls) or sells my name to other organizations (ahem, Planned Parenthood).

With that in mind, I’ve put together a short list of organizations that are currently channeling funds into helping Syrian refugees, with comments as to their strengths and weaknesses. Your mileage may vary, of course, and I’m open to more suggestions, but let this be a starting place.  In order of Charity Navigator ranking, top to bottom:

  • Mercy USA is an 501(c)(3) nonprofit* that funds relief work largely in Muslim communities and is considered an Islamic charity, though the organization publicly commits to “no discrimination in aid given, impartial and non-political.”  Mercy gets the Guidestar seal of approval for transparency and gets a 67.95/70 score from Charity Navigator.  Right now, they’re running a Text4Syria campaign that makes it easy for anyone to quickly give $10 (by texting “SYRIA” to 80077), but you can also donate on their website, by phone, or by mail.  Note: Mercy USA receives US government funding.
  • Save the Children is an internationally known organization (65.30/70 on Charity Navigator) and 501(c)(3) nonprofit that currently maintains a Syrian children in crisis fund. Their program is unique in that they’re working to create “child-friendly spaces” to give children in refugee communities ” a safe space to play and get support while keeping their minds off the harsh reality they are facing.”  This is important in that psychological help is as needed in a crisis as medical and other care.  Guidestar also ranks Save the Children highly.
  • The UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, has a special fund for Syrian refugees, with clear indications of what support of different amounts can provide (for example, “$200 can provide blankets for 20 families”).  Donations through that page go through USA for UNHCR, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and is ranked 51.17/70 by Charity Navigator.  Part of the reason for their lower ranking is that they spend more than 20% of their funds on fundraising, which usually means a lot of paper (and it’s true: I do receive a lot of mailings from UNHCR generally).  You can review their financials through Charity Navigator or GuideStar.
  • Syrianorphans.org is a new coalition that allows donors to choose between three foundations: The Karam Foundation (which is unranked by both Charity Navigator and GuideStar), the Islamic charity Zakat Foundation (55.29/70 on Charity Navigator), and the Syrian Sunrise Foundation (also unranked).  Right now, given the relatively low ranking of the Zakat Foundation and the lack of ranking for the other two (not to mention the fact that, at the current moment, the website’s donation page is not functioning), Syrianorphans.org isn’t one of the best choices.

Lastly, here are a couple of organizations I’d be a bit wary of:

  • SyriaRelief.com – I have no reason to doubt this organization, but it is brand-new, offers no financial transparency, does not appear to be a registered nonprofit, and has no rankings.  YMMV.
  • Sham Relief Foundation – Again, no way of knowing where your money is going.  Why not give to a known, reputable organization instead?

* Donations to 501(c)(3) nonprofits are tax-deductible for US taxpayers.

On March 15

March 15, as it relates to Syria, holds two meanings for me. First, of course, it marks the anniversary of the beginning of the uprising that has claimed thousands of lives and caused so much damage — not just on the ground, but in the way it has divided the Syrian people, brother from brother. The second, however is personal: March 15, 2009, just happens to be the day I boarded a plane from Damascus back home, leaving Syria behind.

Mind you, I was only there a short time; I don’t mean to imply that my leaving is torturous like that of an exile. Rather, I simply note the tears that ran down my face as I walked across the tarmac to the plane, with a heavy feeling like I was leaving forever. I was not, of course, I can say even more certainly now (what, three years later and with enough miles to go the second it’s safe to do so), but I nonetheless had an ache in my chest that I’d never felt upon leaving anywhere else.

There was just…is just…something about Syria. I fell in love with it like no other, and thirty some-odd countries later, it still has my heart. For years I’ve read the blog posts of Yazan, Anas, and Maysaloon, for years I’ve dug through photos, but for the past three years I’ve simply dreamt of going back.

I want what’s best for the Syrian people, for my friends. I believe that’s freedom, but it is not I who decides how to get there.

Three years ago today I left Syria. One year ago today, Syria rose up. In one year, I can only hope I’ll be back.

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