By Marguerite Jill Dye
There comes a time in life on earth that calls for a passionate and forceful reaction, a moment when our hearts and souls determine a moral clarity of action. It’s not the time to become immune, to calculate benefits, or shut down. It’s the time that compels us to act from the depths of the spiritual beings that we are. The problem is that at times we forget to heed our spiritual dimension, and the potential power each one of us has.
Did you know that during the harsh winter of 1954, when people perished from sleeping outside, Abbé Pierre sent the French citizens a plea to take in the homeless? They answered his call, opening hearts and homes, and supporting his Emmaus Movement. The Church first rejected Father Pierre’s request to build housing for the homeless, so he and his friends built shelters then, right in his own back garden. Emmaus International has spread across France to 37 countries since then. Has it had an effect? Just ask the folks in its 336 communities! The numbers of homeless in Europe look like a drop in the bucket compared to ours. “Serve those worse off than yourself before yourself,” their Manifesto declares. Abbé Pierre taught others to share and to “Serve the most needy first.”
Dr. Paul Farmer created Doctors without Borders in 1971 to alleviate suffering due to natural disasters, epidemics, conflict, and lack of health care. First responding to disasters in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, his medical teams have expanded to work in 60 countries. Right now they’re treating victims of neurotoxins like sarin and chlorine in Syria.
“For me, an area of moral clarity is: you’re in front of someone who’s suffering and you have the tools at your disposal to alleviate that suffering or even eradicate it, and you act,” said Dr. Farmer. He set an example of courage without hesitation to save lives around the world in an immediate course of action.
The wreckage and suffering in Syria cannot be justified or excused away, distracted from, or taken in any other way. Carnage of children from intentional bombing by chemical weapons for death and destruction is the most heinous of crimes and must be stopped without delay.
“If the suffering of children goes to make up the suffering needed to buy truth, then I assert that the whole of truth is not worth such a price,” Dostoevsky wrote in “The Brothers Karamazov.”
When poison rains down from the sky maiming and killing children in our world, we must do everything in our power to stop it.
If we act not now, when? If we lack compassion, when will we find it? If we turn away yet again from those who are suffering, then please tell me: What is the future of humanity? And when they ask, “What did you do then?” what will we tell our children and grandchildren? “We sent rockets to bomb an airfield, but we didn’t let the families in. We sent doctors to salve the children’s wounds, but we didn’t let the children in.”
Just as no one chooses to become a victim of a vicious and violent attack, no one chooses to become a refugee, fleeing from home faced with disaster and peril. The Syrian families that survived the weapons of mass destruction are encountering deadly explosive devices as they flee for their lives, Doctors Without Borders just reported. Retreating fighters set booby traps and mines in homes and civilian areas, leaving no safe means of escape. Refugees seek survival without the right to resettle. In great danger of violence, lacking safe water and food, they need clothing and shelter to protect them from the elements, and medical care for injuries and illness. No one chooses to become a refugee. No human being could wish it on their worst enemy.
As I researched the Syrian refugees, I remembered what my Austrian diplomat professor said in the early 1970s in our international relations class at Schiller College in Paris: “If you’d like to make a valuable contribution and a positive impact on the world, help solve the growing problem of refugees fleeing from their war torn and ravaged homelands to save their lives.”
Before Civil War broke out in March 2011, Syria’s population was 22 million. Of the 11 million Syrians who have fled their homes since then, half of them are children: five million are refugees in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt; 10 percent have risked the dangerous journey to Europe; and 6.6 million are displaced within Syria.
A collapsed infrastructure has left 80 percent of the Syrian population living in abject poverty, 95 percent of the Syrian population with no healthcare, 70 percent without potable water, and nearly half a million people have died, according to the Syrian Centre for Policy Research and Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Children are at increased risk of injury, illness, malnourishment, and death; exploitation and abuse; brutality, torture, kidnapping, and use as human shields. Two to three million Syrian children are unable to attend school and a decade of educational programs has been reversed.
Did you know that eight U.S. federal government agencies, six security databases, five background checks, four biometric security checks, three personal interviews, and two inter-agency security checks are required over a process of up to two years to vet a refugee?
“Human greatness does not lie in wealth or power but in character and goodness. People are just people. All people have faults and shortcomings, but all of us are born with a basic goodness,” Anne Frank wrote in her diary. “In spite of everything I simply do believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.”
From her family’s secret hideaway, as refugees in an Amsterdam attic, Anne Frank concluded, “How wonderful it is that no one need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and certainly our children’s keepers. We must act with speed and compassion. Their survival is in our hands. Organize a candlelight prayer vigil, or a fund raising talk on human rights and refugees. Support Doctors Without Borders, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and myriad other programs addressing the Syrian crisis. Call our lawmakers to demand immediate action to reopen our hearts and doors to the Syrian families they’d already vetted and approved, and many more. Act before it’s too late, for time is of the essence.
Marguerite Jill Dye is a Vermont and Florida artist and writer who is concerned about human rights and ethics and the spiritual dissonance society has created that often separates us from our natural state of being.
Correction: April 13
It was brought to our attention April 13 that a few facts were misreported in this column. Dr. Paul Farmer was not, in fact, the a founder of Doctors Without Borders but was rather the co-founder of Partners In Health, which is an unrelated organization that works to address international social justice and health. Farmer’s work began in Haiti, Doctors Without Borders’ work did not (although the organization does work there now). Our sincere apology for theres errors and any confusion they may have caused.