The Syrian and Other Refugees – A Follow-Up

Since my last column on the crisis of the refugees, the tragedy has garnered even more coverage, ranging from the deeply humanitarian to outrageously bigoted and mean-spirited.

The satirists and comedians have given us some of the most insightful perspectives on world issues.  British comedian John Oliver gave us one of his best performances in not only showing the very good and very bad of the Syrian refugee crisis, but also putting on a very human face on it by focusing on a lovely Syrian teen girl named Noujain Mustaffa.  Oliver then “resurrected” her favorite soap opera character in a brilliantly re-created dialog.  Half the refugees are children, many at risk of losing out on their education in addition to their childhood.

Of course, the big news has been the visit of Pope Francis to the United States.  He gave several impassioned speeches; the one I wish to share is the one he gave in Washington, DC.  Children, immigrants, and refugees were much on the mind of the Pontiff when he said, “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners,” adding “We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educated new generations not to turn their back on our ‘neighbors’ and everything around us.”

Melissa Fleming, of the UNHCR, last year presented the plight the Syrian refugees; their case has grown even more desperate since then.  She talked about the urgent need to educate the children, “so they can look to the future rather than relive the nightmare of their past.”

The White House and President Obama have set up a page, AidRefugees.gov.  In addition, US AID has a Web page on what we can do, including writing President Obama and other elected representatives.  You can also leave a message as to actions you have taken on behalf of the refugees.  Public Radio International (PRI) has a very informative page.  Children can help their peers through Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF.  We must speak out against the ugly racism so many people are purveying in public and counter with love and compassion, to do what we can to help these fine and innocent people.

A Veteran Teacher Talks About Being a Champion for Every Child

Rita Pierson talks of teacher advocate advocacy child welfare

Rita Pierson gave a powerful TED talk on why every child needs a champion.

Rita Pierson, a veteran of 40 years, recently gave an impassioned talk about the need for teachers to make a connection with every student, that “every child deserves a champion.”  Even small gestures such as marking a failing paper with “+2” rather than “-18” can have a huge impact on how a student views himself.

Here is Rita Pierson’s TED Talk.

The Refugee Crisis: It’s About Mending, Not Building Fences

When I created this blog, it was not my intention to use it as a political mouthpiece.  Recent events in the political arena, however, have been anything but typical.  I’ll come back to that in a moment.

Even where there are walls, there should be open doorways.

Even where there are walls, there should be open doorways.

Last week, a heart-rending photo of a little boy washed up on the beach received tremendous exposure, thanks to the power of the social media.  There is no need to display the photo here; I am sure most readers know exactly which photo I am referring to.  As with all warfare, children are disproportionately affected.  Among huge numbers of refugees fleeing the despair that is Syria, Iraq, Iran, and parts of North Africa are more children than anyone can count, on which the UNHCR has reported.  That little Syrian boy – here is who he was.  At least that once innocent child from Syria on the beach now has a name, Aylan Kurdi.  Beyond the love of his parents, he had little else.

About those recent political happenings… The ones I am referring to are the insidious and pugnacious remarks by Donald Trump in his quest for his presidential nomination.  He and his GOP counterparts are racing to score political points, ranting about the dangers “Mexican rapists” pose (as the true ignorant bigot he his, Mr. Trump wraps up Mexicans, Hondurans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and other Latinos in a single stereotyped adjectives), while a genuine crisis looms across the Atlantic, one not seen since the dark days of Nazism.  Their diatribe trivializes the unfolding tragedy of the refugees, the families, and their children, of which that little Syrian boy is an example.  The whole spectacle is sickening.  What we now confront is no less than moral catastrophe.  For now, a growing number of Democrats in Congress are urging the US to do its part.

Individuals are also being called on to do their part.  After all, says New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, these refugees are people who could be us and probably were our parents or grandparents.  “Love the stranger, because that stranger could be us,” extols Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.  Rabbi Sacks brought up the Kindertransport during an NPR interview, when Nicholas Winton organized the transfer of more than 10,000 Jewish children to England, saving their lives from the maws of the Nazi monster.

Hideous cartoons such as this are what follow when solipsistic individuals hijack important social issues to serve their own narrow ends.

Hideous cartoons such as this are what follow when solipsistic individuals hijack important social issues to serve their own narrow ends.

For political games in the US, it needs to be “Game Over.”  As Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai urged, we need to call on our leaders, our representatives.  And Charity Navigator has set up a page to help donors decide on a charity that would put funds to best use.  “Tear down that wall!”  Now is the time for people to come together for all of humanity and mend fences, not build them.