the Media Misrepresents LebanonLebanon is a sovereign state that lies on the western coast of the Mediterranean sea. With over six million inhabitants, this small country shares a long border with Syria, a country that is currently facing a multi-year civil war that has been the cause of hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and intense human suffering.

Due to Lebanon’s close proximity to Syria, it naturally has faced some conflict in recent years with the overflow of refugees and military conflict on Lebanese soil. The Syrian war has already rendered and continues to produce much devastation for Syrian people, mainly through a lack of human rights.  

Because of this, the media has associated countries in the surrounding area with this chaotic state. There has been a very distinct picture painted of Lebanon, characterized as unsafe and disorganized. However, everything the public is being told is not exactly true, and the way the media misrepresents Lebanon has a major impact on how we categorize and make assumptions about this beautiful, culturally-rich state.

The main implication behind the way the media misrepresents Lebanon is the fact that the media industry survives off public opinion, meaning that headlines and article content are often edited and revised to fit a style that will capture a reader’s attention. Due to this, it is not uncommon for the media to misrepresent situations and give inflated facts to attract more coverage. This is one of the biggest factors of how the media misrepresents Lebanon and, more specifically, the country’s stability.

While certain parts of Lebanon have faced overflow from the Syrian war–for instance, there have been minor security incidents that have occurred in smaller cities like Baalbek and Sidon–these incidents have been both sporadic and uncommon. The way in which the media covers these topics often paints Lebanon as an unsafe environment for travelers, which is not entirely true.

While there are places to avoid, such as the smaller cities that lie on the Lebanon-Syrian border, larger cities like Beirut have remained nearly untouched and are still safe for tourism. In fact, sources like the New York Times and ABC News have published pro-Beirut pieces that highlight the beauty of Beirut culture. Specifically, the New York Times article touched on the Beirut art scene and the various cultures weaved throughout the city’s architecture and cuisine.

In addition to Beirut, other Lebanese cities like Byblos and Zahlé have also been marked safe for tourism in recent years, with standard travel-safety procedures. The truth is that these Lebanese cities are very similar to any other major city; it is simply a large metropolitan area with general security issues like pickpocketing, scamming and robbery. These problems exist in all major cities throughout the globe.

However, when visiting Lebanon, it is important not to ignore the struggle the country faces with border safety and its ongoing rubbish crisis, in which large amounts of trash continue to cover the state’s shoreline. While tourism helps the Lebanese economy, it is vital that tourists do not contribute to the country’s main issues such as littering.

Although it faces a few security concerns, Lebanon is a beautiful country. Cities like Beirut, Byblos and Zahle have enriching cultures and histories alike, and it is important not to let the way the media misrepresents Lebanon take away from the nation’s true colors.

– Alexandra Dennis

Photo: Flickr

The Success of Humanitarian Aid to SyriaGoing into its seventh year, the Syrian civil war has created one of the largest humanitarian crises of our time. With more than 480,000 people killed and 11 million people displaced from their homes, the international community has grappled with the question of how to bring relief to Syrians amid active hostilities and uncertain circumstances.

The scope and complexity of the conflict, along with the government’s restriction on aid to various regions (especially rebel-held territories), have severely limited international organizations’ relief workers and supplies from reaching much of the country.

Once in a while, though, a humanitarian push manages to rise above the proverbial brick wall that is armed conflict to give hope that there can be successes for humanitarian aid to Syria. Such is the case with the education program bringing new opportunities to some of the hardest-to-reach students in the war-torn city of Aleppo.

With increased access to parts of Aleppo, the Syrian Society for Social Development (SSSD) has begun offering free classes and tutoring to students in the city. This comes at a time when 1.75 million school-aged children are out of the classroom and 1.35 million more are at risk of dropping out.

The SSSD provides a variety of programs, including remedial classes for students who have missed school as well as tutoring, education supplies and registration help. Through some of their informal education programs, they facilitate the transition of dropout students back into the critical thinking mindset of learning to eventually return to formal education.

Zooming out of Aleppo to the rest of Syria, the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan stated that over 1.1 million children were reached through various forms of formal and informal education. These children, along with the 179,118 people who have been reached through women and girls’ empowerment activities, are reason for the hope of continued success of humanitarian aid to Syria.

To get back on its feet economically and promote political stability for the future, Syria cannot afford to lose a generation of educated youths. While the push to get all Syrian children back into school remains an uphill battle in the ongoing conflict, the success of humanitarian aid to Syria gives hope that even the hardest-to-reach students can find their way into the classroom.

– Belén Loza

Photo: Flickr

Facts About the Syrian Civil WarWhile constantly in the news, the atrocities of the Syrian civil war, one of the greatest humanitarian crises in recent history, have become somewhat normalized to readers. However, it is imperative to remain at least aware, if not critical of the causes of such ongoing brutality. Here are 15 facts about the Syrian civil war to stay informed:

  1. In 2011, the Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad responded to civilians peacefully protesting wrongful imprisonment and torture by killing hundreds of demonstrators and imprisoning many more.
  2.  In July 2011, defectors from the military as well as Syrian civilians formed the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group aiming to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and his authoritarian regime.
  3. President Assad encouraged extremists to join the rebellion against his government, and even released jihadist prisoners in order to tinge the rebellion with extremism and make it more difficult for foreign backers to support them.
  4. Neighboring countries with Sunni majorities generally support the rebels while Shia majorities tend to support President Assad. In 2012, Iran intervened on President Assad’s behalf and supplies officers and cargo to government forces. In response, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan sent aid to the rebels to counter Iran’s influence.
  5. The Syrian civil war has become a proxy war between international powers. The United States, under the Obama administration, supported Syrian rebels through CIA training, making it a participant in the war. Russia, on the other hand, backs President Assad.
  6. Syrian Kurds carved out a semi-autonomous region in the north and northeast of Syria. The Kurds support neither the government nor the opposition. The United States has supported the Kurds as one of the most effective anti-Islamic State forces on the ground.
  7. Almost all the forces in Syria fighting against each other are also fighting the Islamic State. In 2011, al-Qaeda forces joined the rebellion against President Assad before beginning to seize control of territory in Syria, by which time they had renamed themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL), and labeling their territories its caliphate. Kurdish forces and Syrian rebels have been combating the rising power of ISIS. The United States has also directly intervened with air strikes.
  8. The United States launched a program to train Syrian rebels to fight ISIS, but not President Assad. The program was criticized for showing that the United States opposes ISIS more than Assad.
  9. President Bashar al-Assad is using chemical weapons against civilians. While the Syrian military as well as Assad himself deny such claims, organizations such as Human Rights Watch has documented the use of chlorine and sarin gas by the Syrian government against its own people.
  10. The United Nations commission of inquiry has evidence implicating all parties in the conflict of war crimes. Rebel forces, as well as the Syrian government and ISIS, have committed war crimes including murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearances. They have also been accused of leveraging access to food, water and health services as a method of combat.
  11. Entering its seventh year, the Syrian conflict has killed almost half a million Syrians, injured more than a million and displaced over 12 million, just about half of the country’s population before the war.
  12. 6.5 million of these displaced individuals are still in Syria. Internally displaced persons tend to be especially vulnerable, especially if they are still in areas of conflict. International aid agencies cannot easily access these areas.
  13. Most Syrian refugees are currently in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. While these areas are relatively safe for displaced Syrians, they remain unstable themselves.
  14. The mass exodus of Syrian refugees to Europe has created its own political crisis. European voters have largely rejected refugees in the wake of the rise of right-wing populism.
  15. Charity organizations across the globe are working to help the millions of Syrians affected by the war. The main charity groups include UNHCR, UNICEF, Doctors Without Border, Oxfam, the International Red Cross and Save the Children.

Richa Bijlani

Photo: Flickr

Additional U.S. Aid for the Syrians Caught in the WarSyria has now been in conflict for six years, and it is becoming the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe. Syria is in ruins, and people stuck in the war zone need humanitarian assistance. UNHCR is working 24/7 to help newly displaced people arriving daily to the Ein Issa camp, but almost 50,000 people are still trapped inside Raqqa. This is why additional U.S. aid for Syrians caught in the middle of the war is needed in the field and will help mitigate the impact of the war on the communities in the region.

The U.S. State Department announced that additional humanitarian aid will be provided to civilians stuck in the war zone. Almost $700 million will be provided, which raises the total amount of U.S. aid for Syrians to more than $7 billion since 2012.

This announcement shows the commitment of the American people and the U.S. government to support critical humanitarian needs. U.S. aid for Syrians caught in the war will provide food, clean water, shelter and medical care to the almost 14 million people in the country who need it.

According to the U.N., since 2011 almost 400,000 Syrians have lost their lives and 5 million have fled the country, while 6.3 million people are displaced inside the country. The crisis has no end for now, even with the news that ISIS is on its heels but will not surrender, preferring to fight to the death. Even with his allies, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is very limited in his rule, the Islamic State is losing ground and the country is exhausted from fighting. But still, the Syrian war drags on.

Aid for the Syrian people will be divided among the organizations and agencies assisting Syrian refugees in the country and elsewhere. Part of the funding will also go to Syria’s neighbors, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, who are taking in some of the refugees.

The day before the announcement, there was a gathering of the world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly. Additional aid for the Syrians and the six-year-long conflict was a central part of the discussion, where the urgent need for safe passage for the humanitarian convoys was highlighted.

Additional U.S. aid for Syrians reflects the commitment of the government to help and ease the suffering of Syrians caught in the war, ultimately saving lives. This additional aid is also supporting the operations of the United Nations and other international and non-governmental organizations.

The U.S. government is making huge efforts to increase humanitarian assistance, but to meet emergency needs, other donors are crucial. Non-governmental organizations are often working in areas where U.N. agencies cannot, offering food assistance and meeting basic needs.

UNHCR Syria is the organization’s largest refugee assistance operation in the world. This organization provides assistance to the internally displaced, supporting refugees across the region. UNICEF implements child and youth protection and health programs and neighbors are also involved.

U.S. aid for Syrians trapped in the war zone is crucial, being the largest single donor to the humanitarian response. The U.S. provides critical relief supplies and protection for children, women, people with disabilities and the elderly.

Due to a shortage of the funds, non-government organizations are facing many challenges. The additional aid for Syrians in the war zone will bring them critical help, hope for a safe future and the message from the world that they are not alone and forgotten.

– Edita Jakupovic Delcaro

Photo: Flickr

Educating Syrian Refugees

College students from around the world have been educating Syrian refugees via Skype. According to Vocativ, 35 percent of Syrian refugees are of school age. Unfortunately, the conflict in Syria has interrupted their ability to learn. However, the Paper Airplanes program has provided a solution.

University students from around the world have volunteered in educating Syrian refugees via Skype, especially in English. Syrian students receive tutoring for many reasons, some of which include preparing for tests like the SAT and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

Learning English is imperative for Syrian refugees. According to The Williams Record, English is often necessary because it “aids in the resettlement process, creates employment opportunities and is increasingly important for gaining an education in Middle Eastern countries that teach predominantly in French and English.”

Tutoring does not only benefit the refugees but their tutors as well. Educating Syrian refugees via Skype gave tutors the opportunity actually to do something about the Syrian crisis. Before, a lot of international students were frustrated with their helplessness over the situation, so they jumped at the chance to help in any way that they could.

The Williams Record also illustrated how, in educating Syrian refugees via Skype, the tutors found commonality with their Syrian tutees. One of the tutors in the article, for example, bonded with her tutee over soccer, surprised that she made the connection.  There are, however, risks in educating Syrian refugees via Skype. A poor internet connection, as discussed in Vocativ, can stop tutoring in its tracks.

Regardless, Skype has had an impact on Syrian refugees, such that many refugees are educating others through this platform as well. A new program, NaTakallam, founded by Aline Sara, connects Syrian refugees with people who want to learn Arabic. This program gives refugees the opportunity to both pay it forward and create an income for themselves.

Cortney Rowe

Shay Mitchell Empowers Women and ChildrenAward-winning Pretty Little Liars Actress Shay Mitchell has been very active outside of her role as Emily Fields, continuing to do much more with her travel experiences than simply finding new foods or relaxing by the beach.

Mitchell empowers women and children who live in oppressive and poverty-ridden countries by interacting with them and learning what it is that these people face every day in order to survive.

One company that Mitchell supports is an ethical fashion and lifestyle brand called Raven + Lily. In her channel’s official YouTube video about her 2015 trip to India, Mitchell explains how Raven + Lily helps fight poverty by giving women a sustainable income.

Mitchell endorses the company by showing her viewers each product that Raven + Lily produces, how the employed women make them and how purchasing from these women will help give them a life that they deserve.

“Women in this Muslim community are not allowed to work outside their home,” Mitchell explains. She continues to state that Raven + Lily allows these women to work from inside their homes, respecting their culture yet giving them a stable and secure income.

Mitchell ended her trip by attending a festival of love and color, which is a local tradition where the citizens covered her in organic colors as they all danced together. This is one of the many ways that Shay Mitchell empowers women and children by participating in events that allow her to relate to everyday citizens on a fundamental level.

Mitchell told In Style magazine that the most difficult part of the trip for her was seeing the extreme poverty in India. She goes on to say that while it is overwhelming, the most important thing to do is to focus on helping these people one person at a time because every struggling citizen matters.

In July of this year, Mitchell posted a photo with children she met while in Syria in the Azraq Syrian Refugee Camp. “Kids should be kids,” she said in a recent Facebook post, talking about how resilient the children are and talking about how much that she missed them already.

During this time, posted a photo of Mitchell visiting with Syrian children whose dreams are to attend film school. This is in support of CARE’s refugee film school at the Azraq camp.

With Snapchat stories filled with smiling kids, a personal YouTube video showing support for Raven + Lily and verbal support for women and children living in oppression and poverty, Shay Mitchell empowers women and children by being an active advocate for better treatment of struggling citizens around the world.

Noel McDavid
Photo: Flickr

Syria Recovery Trust Fund
As the death toll and damage continues to rise in Syria, nations rush to take action, whether military or monetary. In this effort, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has approved $20 million of further funding towards the Syria Recovery Trust Fund (SRTF) at a recent SRTF board meeting in Washington, DC. This brings the U.S. total contribution up to $60 million, whereby the U.S. donated $15 million initially, $15 million more in 2015, and $10 million in 2016. The organization is heavily reliant on its international donors and has up to date received $215 million in funds. Germany, Japan, Kuwait and France are some of the next biggest contributors after the U.S.

The Syria Recovery Trust Fund works with the current interim government and local groups to create transparent projects in Syria. This includes recovery initiatives and working with resident service providers to restore essential services such as electricity, water and sanitation, food security and waste removal in opposition-controlled territories. Hence, the SRTF focuses in these divisions alongside health and education and under particular circumstances agriculture, transportation and housing. Already looking to the future, they hope to shift their attention to rebuilding Syria’s infrastructure once fighting ceases.

Created by the Group of Friends of the Syrian People and its Working Group on Economic Recovery and Development and signed into practice in 2013, the Syria Recovery Trust Fund has already played a valuable role in the region. The group has successfully contracted engineers and equipment to expand electrical grids and water pipelines, restored medical clinics, supplied medical tools, and provided materials to improve production and storage of wheat harvests. Subsequently, they have helped more than two million Syrians progress and recover.

The newest contribution from the USAID will go to Syria Recovery Trust Fund interventions in newly liberated areas. The aid has paved a way for Syria and its people to rise from the rubble shortly again.

Zar-Tashiya Khan

Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Syrian Refugees
It has been six years since the outbreak of civil war in Syria that has resulted in a reported 470,000 Syrian deaths. The war began with anti-government demonstrations and escalated into armed opposition groups fighting the government after a violent crackdown on the protests. The ongoing threat of the civil war has caused 11 million Syrians to flee so far. Here are 10 facts about Syrian refugees:

  1. Of the 11 million people displaced by the conflict in Syria, five million Syrians are refugees. This means that the other 6.3 million are displaced within Syria.
  2. Four out of five Syrian refugees are children.
  3. In just over a year after the civil uprising began, 500,000 Syrian refugees had left their homes.
  4. Many Syrian refugees remain in the Middle East. They reside in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, although an estimated 10 percent have relocated to Europe.
  5. Many Syrians who fled into Northern Iraq are now trapped inside Iraq’s internal conflict. Because of pre-existing conflict, Iraq struggles to meet the needs of the Syrian refugees.
  6. In order to flee, many Syrian refugees attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Not all of them make it across alive.
  7. In January 2016, a reported 2,647 refugees fled to the United States, amounting to roughly 0.06 percent of the total refugee population.
  8. Around 40,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Canada.
  9. Nearly the entire population of Syria lives in poverty, with about 70 percent lacking access to clean drinking water.
  10. In 2016, the U.N. declared that $4.5 billion was required in order to meet the urgent needs of Syrians, yet only $2.9 billion was actually received.

These 10 facts about Syrian refugees illustrate the always-escalating nature of the crisis, showing that aid is needed more than ever before.

Danyel Harrigan

Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Uruguay
Prompted by the Syrian refugee crisis, many countries have implemented stricter immigration policies. However, some Latin American countries, specifically those with a higher proportion of Muslims or Syrians, responded to the refugee crisis with more sympathy. Uruguay is one such country. Nestled in between Brazil and Argentina, the territory of Uruguay is roughly the size of Washington state and is home to only 3.4 million individuals. Here are some essential facts about refugees in Uruguay:

  1. Uruguay was the first country in Latin America that showed a willingness to receive refugees.
  2. According to one political analyst, Uruguay’s economy will largely be unable to assimilate refugees into their workforce.
  3. Refugees publicly lamented the country’s limited economic opportunity.
  4. According to most recent statistics, Uruguay accepted 117 immigrants up to September 2015.
  5. Refugees now appeal to other countries and even to the United Nations to help them leave the country.
  6. Some refugees tried leaving the country, but such efforts failed because most countries do not accept their Uruguay-issued documentation and the immigrants also lack their Syrian-issued passports.
  7. Amidst such social discord, public opinion toward Syrian refugees began to sour. Many citizens felt that the refugees in Uruguay are ungrateful.
  8. Due to such public backlash, President Vasquez temporarily suspended any further allocation of Syrian refugees.
  9. The country’s first group of Syrian refugees was to take Spanish classes to help them assimilate.
  10. Uruguay hoped that, with their initial open door policy, they would have a type of contagion effect on surrounding countries.

The following information about refugees in Uruguay reveals that countries with already suffering economies are, in many cases, unfit to offer refuge to large numbers of displaced persons. Therefore, more prosperous nations ought to show Uruguay’s initial willingness to accept refugees.

Shannon Golden

Photo: Flickr

Education for Syrian Refugees in Turkey
In March 2017, the European Union (EU) and United International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) announced a new partnership with the Turkish government to address the issue of education for Syrian refugees in Turkey by initiating a program to provide 230,000 additional Syrian refugee children in Turkey with educational opportunities.

There are currently 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. 1.3 million of them are children. About half of the Syrian refugee children are enrolled in schools or temporary education centers. Nonetheless, 40 percent, or 370,000, of the Syrian refugee children living in Turkey are not receiving an education.

The initiative announced by the EU, UNICEF, and the Turkish government is a Conditional Cash Transfer for Education (CCTE). The CCTE, inaugurated in May 2017, provides refugee families with bi-monthly cash transfers. The cash transfers are targeted with the goal of encouraging 230,000 more children to regularly attend school. The overarching goal is to ensure that there is “no lost generation” of Syrians.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake noted that education is especially needed in emergency situations so that the refugees can one day rebuild their lives and their countries.

As of June 8, 2017, 56,000 refugee children have enrolled in the program.

Education for Syrian refugees in Turkey is difficult to implement for multiple reasons. The language used to teach in schools in Turkey is Turkish, while most Syrians grew up learning and speaking Arabic. Also, many Syrian refugee families do not have the financial resources to send their children to school.

Besides the CCTE, many organizations are working to better provide access to education for Syrian refugees in Turkey. In 2016, UNICEF, supported by the EU, aided 12,600 Syrian children by safeguarding their crossing of conflict lines so that they could sit their national examinations.

The Turkish Ministry of National Education and UNICEF have held teacher training for 20,500 Syrian refugees. The aim is to instruct Syrian volunteer teachers with pedagogic skills under the guidelines of Turkish teacher training standards. This aids the teachers who often teach in overcrowded classrooms and have many students with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

One Syrian volunteer teacher, Osama Ayat, relates to his students by telling them stories about his hours spent learning the Turkish language. He says he makes them laugh and emphasizes that teachers can empower their students.

Ayat and his students are one example of individuals benefiting from the strides that multiple organizations make to guarantee education for Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Sean Newhouse

Photo: Flickr