“There but for the grace of God go I.” — attributed to many
To excuse or explain our hesitancy to get involved in the trials of humanity, as millions of people barely escape their communities or countries with their lives, we say, “But what can I do? I’m only one person.” That inane comment always makes me mad. We are all “only one person.”
One of us in Fayetteville first decided to help one child in Syria, who had lost his hand to war. Now from the living room of her home, she is helping hundreds. For over 30 years I’ve seen Hamsa Newmark and her husband, Moshe, work as activists on environmental and humanitarian issues. They take on and build projects that would seem impossible and improbable to most of us. Bridge of Peace Syria, which can be contacted or donated to on Facebook, is their most ambitious work yet.
Through social media, email, and mail (P.O. Box 3133, Fayetteville, AR 72702), Hamsa began networking in 2013 with people, who had friends or family in war-torn Syria, and developed an on-line friendship with a stranger trying to help refugees forming a camp near the Turkish border. With financial help, he said he could get food and blankets to them, so Hamsa began her search for funds.
Not naive in the ways of the world, she also insisted on transparency and accountability before wiring funds and required budgets, cost sheets, reports, receipts, photos and videos to verify that the money was going where it was supposed to go. And it was.
Soon tons of food — potatoes, onions, legumes, rice, flour, cooking oil, baby food, milk, etc. and thick warm blankets for each of the 320 children in the camp began arriving, and the Newmarks kept on raising awareness, trust and money. They have done this in every way they know how from selling donated items, holding concerts, putting on silent auctions and even fasting toward a set monetary goal as personal incentive for people to pledge support. Hamsa, who was joined by some family and friends in her last fast, says this is an experience that certainly clarifies your purpose in helping others. There is nothing like hunger to make you focus on what human needs really are.
After the blankets they provided shoes, hats, scarves and gloves for the children, and fuel for heating and cooking. Every tent got a box of essential items and in one effort, a dress each was provided to about 50 women, who are often the last to ask for or receive help.
Clean water to help keep down spreading sickness in the camp became an urgent project, and in only a few months, a tank, pipes, pumps and a generator were providing that most basic of human needs to the refugees. Then after learning that small houses cost $260 (tents cost $200), they raised enough to build 14 houses for the most destitute families.
The very young children have never known anything but war and horror. And, older kids are missing their education years so Bridge of Peace Syria has now built a school. First they built three rooms for a kindergarten and quickly enlarged it to an eight-room compound for 300 students and added a playground. They purchased school supplies, books, backpacks, blackboards, desks and art materials as well as heat stoves for the winter, fans for the summer, and a solar panel to run this small touchstone of normalcy in a world of chaos.
Bringing structure and order to the lives of the children has helped the adults create the beginnings of a community and the school building is doubling as a meeting place for them to help each other.
To walk or run away from all you have ever known, dressed only in the clothes on your back and carrying only your children in your arms are acts of desperate survival. Going without food, water, bedding, shelter or money while bombs and bullets destroy everything and everyone around you takes courage and strength beyond imagination. Risking everything, thousands have died crossing countries on foot or crossing the sea in leaky boats to find another home.
Bridge of Peace is reaching out to help thousands of our fellow humans still in Syria, and it started with one woman wanting to give a hand to a little boy half way across the world.
Please do not ever, ever say that one person can’t make a difference.
Fran Alexander is a Fayetteville resident with a longstanding interest in the environment and an opinion on almost anything else. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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