The White HelmetsThe White Helmets, also known as the Syria Civil Defense, is a force of volunteers that has been making an impact in Syria since late 2012. The group provides aid wherever it is necessary, from war-torn neighborhoods to areas affected by natural disasters.


Throughout the last decade, Syria has been one of the most unstable countries in the world, due to both political instability and natural causes. The Syrian Civil War, a conflict that began in 2011 and continues even now, is the main reason for this instability. The fighting mostly occurs in urban areas, and it typically involves mass artillery strikes and chemical weapons attacks. As a result, nearly 7 million people have been displaced from their homes, according to World Vision. World Vision also estimates that food insecurity currently affects 12 million people throughout Syria, while nearly half of all Syrians live in poverty as of March 2023.

In addition to the ongoing conflict, the northwest of Syria suffered two massive earthquakes on February 6, 2023. Both earthquakes registered well over 7.0 on the Richter Scale. The devastating earthquakes were responsible for over 7,000 deaths throughout Syria. According to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDS), 8.8 million people live in the areas that the earthquake impacted, and this dramatically increases the need for humanitarian aid in the country. 

Making an Impact

Over the course of the Syrian Civil War, the White Helmets have provided invaluable aid to those in need. Its official website estimates that the efforts of the White Helmets “saved more than 100,000 lives over the past five years.” The volunteers began with urban search and rescue teams, often scouring through the rubble of bomb sites to find survivors.

The White Helmets continue to make an impact today as it provides earthquake relief. In the early stages of recovery from the earthquakes, the Syria Civil Defense was able to save over 3,000 people, helping pull people from the rubble of destroyed buildings, delivering food and medicine to those in need and distributing medical care all around the affected area.

The Story Continues

Now an influential organization, the White Helmets began as nothing more than groups of everyday people who wanted to look out for others. When the Syrian Civil War first began, there was little to no effective infrastructure to help those hurt in bombings, shootings and a variety of other deadly hazards that the war caused. Despite a total lack of organization and incredible danger, the first members of the White Helmets took it upon themselves to help those in need.

The institution has come a long way since those days, as it has become one of the most well-known aid organizations currently operating in Syria. The White Helmets got a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2016. Although it didn’t win the prize, the publicity gained from the nomination was invaluable. In 2016, a documentary titled The White Helmets won an Oscar for best short subject documentary. The White Helmets’ impact has earned recognition from around the globe, and the organization’s work continues to make a difference.

– Ezra Bernstein
Photo: Flickr

Support for Sri LankaAccording to The World Bank, poverty rates in Sri Lanka have doubled between 2021 and 2022, rising from 13.1% to 25.0%. Within a year, 2.5 million people have fallen into poverty, leading to reduced spending in crucial areas like health care and education. This increase in multidimensional poverty necessitates immediate attention, as inflation stands at approximately 46%. While the country’s economic outlook may be dim, global organizations such as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations (U.N.), alongside local initiatives like Prithipura Communities, offer avenues for support and assistance through various fundraisers and campaigns.

Prithipura Communities

Established in 1964, Prithipura Communities is an NGO in Sri Lanka originally focused on aiding disabled children. Over the years, its scope has expanded to support children and families affected by the country’s social, political and economic challenges. Presently, Prithipura is actively involved in the “Cost of Living Crisis Appeal” project, accepting donations to provide food, education and health care services to those in need. The organization also offers opportunities for volunteering, providing assistance with visas for those willing to contribute on-site. Additionally, corporations such as The Emirates Airline and Maze have formed partnerships with Prithipura Communities, contributing to efforts.

UNDP Sri Lanka

The development program of the U.N. (UNDP) Sri Lanka has launched a crowdfunding platform called “Rebuild Sri Lanka” with the aim of reconstructing the country’s infrastructure. Through this initiative, individuals can donate and support the health care and food sectors. Furthermore, the UNDP provides farmers with seeds and farming equipment to enhance the agricultural supply chain. The campaign has garnered support from various corporate institutions such as Hema Holdings PLC, Dilmah Ceylon Tea Company, Brandix Apparel Limited, Citi Foundation and Amana Bank. UNDP Sri Lanka also offers career opportunities and regular updates for those interested in contributing to the cause. 

UNICEF Sri Lanka

With nearly half of Sri Lanka’s children requiring humanitarian assistance, UNICEF plays a vital role in child care and positive impact. Through its Sri Lanka branch, it provides opportunities for individuals worldwide to support the country. Donations made through the organization’s website directly contribute to helping children in Sri Lanka thrive and reach their full potential. Additionally, people can sign petitions, volunteer and spread awareness through social media. UNICEF’s current mission aims to raise $25 million to assist 1.7 million children in the country.

Looking Ahead

Sri Lanka’s multidimensional poverty crisis demands urgent attention and international support. Organizations like UNICEF, the U.N. and Prithipura Communities are exemplary leaders in driving positive change. Other avenues for support include Give2Asia, WFP and Red Cross Sri Lanka, which offer accessible projects and initiatives online. By offering guidance and opportunities to help Sri Lanka, these organizations foster unity, compassion and progress on a global scale.

– Sebastián Garcés
Photo: Flickr

Yemen’s humanitarian crisis continued to escalate on the days approaching a United Nations-planned ceasefire, which was to take effect on Friday, July 10 at 23:59 local time and last until the end of Ramadan on July 17. Since late March 2015, when fighting broke out, the people of Yemen began to experience ever-deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

According to UN News Centre, “In the past three months alone, some 3,000 Yemenis have been killed, half of them civilians, and 14,000 others injured. Over a million people have had to flee their homes and 21 million need immediate help, close to 13 million people are unable to meet their food needs, 15 million people have no healthcare and outbreaks of dengue and malaria are raging unchecked.”

Unfortunately, the planned week-long ceasefire lasted only hours before Arab coalition-led airstrikes and fighting broke out once again, ending the UN-brokered truce. No side, neither the Houthis nor the Arab coalition forces, took responsibility for having broken the agreement.

UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric expressed the vital importance of a legitimate ceasefire: “it is imperative and urgent that humanitarian aid can reach all vulnerable people of Yemen unimpeded and through an unconditional humanitarian pause.”

After the failed ceasefire, Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations emergency relief coordinator, called upon all parties to attempt to once more put a pause to the conflict in order to access those in need and to provide people with proper humanitarian aid.

Nevertheless, UN agencies and other organizations have seen breakthroughs in aid and success in accessing those in need of humanitarian assistance through constant persistence. On July 14, 2015, the World Health Organization reported that it delivered supplies to Aden, which included “46.4 metric tonnes of medicines, medical supplies, and water and sanitation supplies for more than 84,000 beneficiaries in eight districts of Aden governorate”—an area which suffered a rise in dengue fever and malaria as a result of the conflict’s limiting access to healthcare.

The WHO also managed to dispense bed nets to over 9,000 households and provide residual spray materials and equipment, along with house-to-house spraying conducted by trained staff.

Subsequently, UN News Centre reports that the “WHO has distributed a total of more than 175 metric tonnes of medicines and medical supplies and more than 500,000 litres of fuel to maintain the functionality of main hospitals, vaccine stores, ambulances, national laboratories, kidney and oncology centres, and health centres in 13 governorates, reaching a total of almost five million people, including 700,000 internally displaced persons and 140,000 children under the age of five.”

Furthermore, as fighting escalated in Aden, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced what could only be described as “a major breakthrough”: the WFP’s first ship docked in the Al-Buraiqa port in the city of Aden, bringing with it 3,000 metric tonnes of food—enough to sustain 180,000 people for a month—and relief for the many food-insecure Yemenis, totalling at about 13 million people.

As the conflict rages on and the people of Yemen continue to suffer in ruin as a result of war, their survival lies in the hands of international aid organizations, which, even through war-ravaged times, are committed to their mission to aid those most in need, wherever they may be.

Jaime Longoria

Sources: Al Jazeera, UN News Centre 1, UN News Centre 2, UN News Centre 3
Photo: DW

Since President Obama’s announcement of his nomination of a new USAID Chief to replace Rajiv Shah, the name Gayle Smith has been echoed throughout political websites, blogs and news media platforms. With the conversation focused on Gayle Smith, many debate whether she is the prime candidate to head the world’s largest bilateral aid organization.

Gayle Smith is no stranger to development circles. As an African regional expert and former senior leader of 6 years for the National Security Council, Smith has addressed a record setting number of humanitarian crises.

Among her accomplishments is her oversight of the Open Government Partnership, a corruption-fighting initiative encouraging transparency among world governments as well as the empowerment of their citizens. She also oversaw the creation of Power Africa, an aid program fostering connections between African energy firms to allow electricity access to some of the continent’s 6 million who are without power.

Home to the Central African Republic, who has the world’s lowest economic growth rate of negative 36 percent, Africa looks to be a region in need of special attention. A USAID leader specializing in African development might just be the key. Smith has already pronounced herself a proponent of aid to Africa in her prioritization of Power Africa, and could be a valuable asset to the advancement of the numerous countries struggling to keep poverty rates at bay while stimulating economic growth.

Before working alongside President Obama as part of the National Security Council, Smith co-founded the Enough Project in 2006, an organization working to stop crimes against humanity and end genocide in some of the world’s most dangerous regions. The Enough Project first obtains information on the ground, then determines the best solution and mobilizes Washington and the American public to promote policies that work toward a better world. Smith has had an evident history not only of addressing the world’s atrocities, but of working through political leaders to become agents of change in the international arena; a task that is not always easy with regard to issues of genocide and poverty.

“I want somebody who knows all the players, who knows all the levers of power, who’s familiar with them,” Howard Berman, former congressional representative for California commented.

For those seeking a new player who knows the ropes, optimism is in the air. Smith has already been recognized as a development ‘insider’. Jim Kolbe, former congressional representative serving Arizona stated, “Few people know development as Gayle Smith does, and fewer still understand the intricacies of the spaghetti bowl that makes up our whole aid/development system.”

With Smith’s demonstrated knowledge of the inner-workings of the world of aid organizations and development agencies, many are hoping she will be able to continue to steer USAID on the track of reform while promoting a more flexible decision-making process.

Ritu Sharma, co-founder of Women Thrive Worldwide, is confident that Smith is the right person to succeed Shah. She believes that Smith even has enough clout to change some of USAID’s most stubborn patterns. Sharma stated, “A big problem with our aid is that there’s so little flexibility. When the train’s going in the wrong direction, [we] can’t change tracks.”

Given Smith’s past experience and insider knowledge of the system coupled with the leverage she holds, one thing we do know for certain is that if confirmed, she could be a highly influential leader of USAID with the power to not only support a number of recent humanitarian needs, but also to promote critical reform within the organization.

– Amy Russo

Sources: The Hill,, Enough Project, Devex
Photo: Flickr