Friday, 29 November 2013

Syria’s Lost Generation: What hope for children born in war?

Children are the future, a common knowledge. With the conflict in Syria raging on, humans right violations and atrocities continue to be committed on a daily basis. Children have become the most vulnerable victims, with their future lives being dramatically implicated upon. On Wednesday evening I went to a talk organised by Leeds Friends of Syria, LUU Save the Children and ONE LEEDS society. Salli Martlew from the high profile international Save the Children and Dr Ayman Al Jundi from the smaller grassroots charity Syria Relief talked both of the immense atrocities and what is being done for those who can’t help themselves.

The facts are horrific. 11,420 children have been killed. 7 million people, 1/3 of the population have been displaced, a figure larger than the populations of many of the neighbouring countries! In both Lebanon and Jordan 1 in 4 people are Syrian, an astounding figure and half of the refugees are innocent children. Over 2000 schools have been bombed and only in 1 in 10 now receive ‘formal’ education. The figures continue on a mind numbing scale, as do the stories. Hope for children in the war may seem diminished when concentrating on these figures. Below is a heart-wrenching video of what kids have become accustomed to dealing with:

However, positivity can come through from the actions ordinary people, in a country as far removed as our own, have taken. Save the Children are working on two fronts: to provide practical support and to give a voice to those who don’t have one; and to let the perpetrators know the world is watching. However, Save the Children are somewhat up against a wall since aid is still not allowed to cross the border into Syria. This means 2/3 of their work is concentrated in some of the largest refugee camps the world has ever seen. The continued denial of humanitarian access across the borders is baffling. However this is where the beauty of small grassroots organisation and collaboration really comes to play.

Syria Relief became an officially registered charity in 2011 and has raised £4.5 million so far, of which 92% has been spent inside Syria!! This has happened because the founders and trustees are well respected Syrians based in the UK, thus can cross the border and are part of a whole network that large international charities could not dream of. The strength of the small charities is not necessarily the funds they can raise but their ability to deliver and get in. By collaborating and presenting project proposals to larger charities who have the money, the two can work together to make a real, fundamental difference to many Syrians both inside and out of the country. Syria Relief has established new schools, set up social programmes including orphan support and provided food and food security through sanitising water. Their aim is to not only help immediately, but to set up sustainable efforts. One such is craft workshops organised for women refugees in Jordan. The items they make are sold abroad and then Syria Relief channels the money back to them ensuring those women involved and their families have essentially their own money to live on.

The achievements of a grassroots charity are astounding and inspiring. The ‘lost generation’ of Syria is a heartbreaking subject and awareness still needs to be raised. However the talk showed how successful and important collaboration and the simple actions we take can be. Check out the links below for more, including a petition to get parliament to help get aid into Syria!!
  • One of the major hindrances of humanitarian aid is that they are simply not allowed in. Below is a petition to get the issue discussed in British parliament, in the hope they will advocate humanitarian corridors into Syria, amongst other things:

  • Ellie Goulding has produced a song for Syria with Save the Children. Download to donate to Save the Children! The video is harrowing - will make you re think all the news headlines that are easy to drown out! 

Jessica Papworth

Monday, 25 November 2013

Leeds Friends of Syria - 'Give it a Go' Event

Leeds Friends of Syria, in Thursday 21st November, hosted a 'Give it a Go' event to welcome old and new faces to the society.

Leeds Friends of Syria is a society, at the University of Leeds, which was founded as a direct response to the violence and human rights violations taking place in Syria. They seek to contribute to international efforts to stop violence and provide humanitarian aid to those in need. The group is primarily based at the University of Leeds but is open to all those who share their goals and values, in the Leeds area and beyond.

The Leeds Friends of Syria GIAG was also an opportunity to fundraise for 'Hand in Hand for Syria', a charity which the group regularly fundraises for. Also the event was a great opportunity to sample traditional Syrian food which was kindly provided by the society's Syrian members.

Christine Gilmore is the society's President and Hannah Dudley is the Treasurer. Hannah and Alice Hale ran the Leeds Friends of Syria and welcomed both old and new members. 

'Leeds Friends of Syria' will be hosting a number of events this week to mark Human Rights Week (Monday 25th - Friday 29th November) - details are below: 

Wednesday 27th November

Follow them on Twitter @LeedsForSyria

Monday, 18 November 2013

Review of 'Suitcase': 75th Anniversary of Kindertransport

75 years ago, following urgent appeals from Quaker groups, Jewish and non-Jewish organisations, the British government agreed to take part in the emergency evacuation of Jewish children up to the age of seventeen from those countries under immediate threat from the rising Nazi Party.

Set in train stations around the country, ‘Suitcase’ invites the audience to witness the experiences of those involved in Kindertransport, from the children arriving and the foster parents awaiting their arrival to those fundraising on their behalf.

The audience are welcomed to the event as if they themselves were refugees being welcomed by a group of volunteers and musicians, establishing an atmosphere of excitement and anxiousness. Slowly, from among the audience, the children appear and we are introduced to a range of attitudes: There are the older siblings, desperately trying to fill the shoes of their absent parents; the younger children excited by the journey and not quite aware of the severity of the situation; and the ever-optimistic child who believes that all will be well when mummy gets here…

Throughout the play the audience is ushered to different parts of the station to see and take part in a number of vignettes. Some are light hearted, poking fun at the British lack of awareness for cultural differences. Other scenes, however, are far more heart wrenching and I was not surprised to see many of the audience wiping their eyes upon the separation of a little boy from his older sister.

Despite being set in 1938, the audience will have noticed that the disturbing language of one scene in particular was all too familiar. Just as we hear and see the spread of casual racism and scaremongering from populist politicians today, ‘Suitcase’ did well to show that similar attitudes are ever-present. Even with Jewish persecution on the continent being common knowledge, there were some that were keen to spread the words of Oswald Mosely and truly believed that “there is no room” or that the new arrivals would take our jobs.

Overall, the play achieved what it set out to do: to educate. Hopefully, the audience, about a quarter of which were school children, left Sheffield Station in a reflective mood: proud that the UK was involved in Kindertransport, proud that the UK is still seen as a place of refuge for those who need it, and questioning of those who, when faced with people fleeing unimaginable horrors, can simply shake their head and say there is no room.

Adam Leake 

For those who have been unable to see 'Suitcase', the show is still touring on the following dates:
Leeds Central: 19/11/13
Manchester Piccadilly: 21/11/13
Liverpool Lime Street: 22/11/13
Bristol Temple Meads: 25/11/13
Southampton Central: 27/11/13
Harwich International: 29/11/13
Liverpool Street Station, London: 2/12/13

For more information please visit:

Image Sources:

1) Taken by Press Gang