“I have long said that Americans are the most generous people in the world. But we do have the shortest attention spans. And when it comes to global crises today, I fear that too many in the United States believe that we can insulate ourselves from the world’s problems and leave it to the countries of the region and Europe to sort out…”
Many of us take access to clean water, food, and education for granted. But at the same time, there are approximately 19 million people around the world who are fleeing their homes to escape violence and who are forced to rely on humanitarian assistance. Right now there are 60 million people (the equivalent of the entire population of Italy) in the world who are globally displaced.
Within Iraq alone, there are over 3.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs). And no one is immune from the violence and insecurity within Iraq, including children. Currently, 3.2 million school aged children are affected by the current crisis. And approximately 76% of the displaced children have almost lost a full year of education. To make matters worse, the average length of displacement in the world is a staggering 17 years. This means that many children in Iraq and around the world might still be displaced when they reach adulthood. These statistics are alarming and demand the attention of the global community. Unfortunately, the international community has not provided enough support to Iraq. As of today, the United Nations has only raised half of the $704 million required for the humanitarian crisis in Iraq.
We cannot continue to insulate ourselves from the suffering that is taking place around the world. While many of us may feel insignificant or powerless when it comes to these issues, I promise you, we are not. Advocacy can go a long way, especially when there is a strong civil society base. The more we engage in meaningful dialogue and pressure our representatives in congress to invest in the people of Iraq and the greater Middle East, the more we exercise our power.
Recently the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) held an event titled, “Middle East Strategy Task Force: Beyond Refugees” to address shortcomings of the international community as well as discuss the development of new strategies for recovery. The panel included former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, Stephen J. Hadley, David Miliband, Nancy Lindborg, and Antoine Frem, the Mayor of Jounieh.
At the event, President of USIP, Nancy Lindborg addressed the issue of education in the Middle East crisis. She stated that solely focusing on food or shelter and addressing the need for education in the long term will produce disastrous results. Therefore, Nancy Lindborg stressed that the international community must act now on the issue of education. This is something that really resonated with me because a lot of the work that we do at EPIC is focused on providing children with access to education and an outlet from the crisis. Through Soccer Salam and TentEd, we do more than just provide humanitarian assistance, we also support the development and education of displaced youth as well as provide them the resources to play like children again. Recently, through Soccer Salam, we raised over $20,000 to provide food, water tanks, medicine, and soccer balls to displaced and vulnerable families around Iraq. These funds will go directly to the displaced families as the funds will be used locally to purchase the supplies. Our hope is that these supplies will not only help families who are unable to find food but, also bring hope and joy into the lives of children.
There are no short term or easy solutions to these protracted conflicts nor is there a quick solution that will provide aid and protection to the millions of internally displaced people and refugees around the world. But this does not mean that we should feel powerless or become numb to the crises around the world. If this was happening within the United States, many of us would feel more compelled to act. We must show solidarity with the millions of displaced and vulnerable people around the world. We must stray away from apathy and embrace our empathy. And at the same time, we must continue to press our representatives and the international community to take more active roles. We must remind our leaders that we are watching their actions and taking note when they fail to act. Together, civilians around the world can influence policy leaders. The crisis that is going on in Iraq and around the world is not just a regional crisis, we must tackle the humanitarian needs as a united front. Although, we are not directly affected, we cannot ignore the needs of civilians in Iraq or anywhere else in the world.