In September 2015, I saw a photograph that totally disrupted my comfortable life. That photograph captured the lifeless body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying face-down on a Turkish beach. The overcrowded rubber boat that he and his family had boarded for a 30-minute journey toward freedom flipped in the first 5 minutes. The following day, Aylan, along with his brother and mother, were buried.
I soon mailed a check to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In response, UNHCR sent information about its cash assistance program for Syrian refugee families living under the poverty line in Lebanon and Jordan. The cost to raise a family of five above the poverty line was just $148 a month in 2016. If refugee families could pay rent and buy food, perhaps they wouldn’t feel the desperate need to undertake the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. I took my concern to my Quaker meeting, Gwynedd Friends, who united with my concern.
A Refugee Support Subcommittee was formed; it immediately created a donation form and began planning fundraising projects. Meeting members gave generously and shared the project with families, friends and neighbors. Over $50,000 has been raised in two years to support the UNHCR cash-assistance program.
Susan LaBombard, a Senior Manager for USA for UNHCR, asked to visit and thank Gwynedd Friends. I acknowledged to her that while cash assistance was surely the most effective way to give poor refugee families needed resources, it was sometimes difficult to keep donors connected to the human beings receiving their donations. Susan said she might be able to help, inviting me to join her on a UNHCR field trip to Jordan to meet with two refugee families.
We arrived in Jordan on July 10, 2017. Overall, I was struck by the strength, grace, and hope of these families. Using my phone to share a photo of my granddaughter, I observed that just as she had done nothing to deserve the security and plenty in her life, their children and grandchildren had done nothing to deserve the deprivation and loss in theirs. I promised to tell their stories when I returned home, and now I have a presentation, “Syrian Families, Refugees in Jordan,” that I give to schools and civic organizations.
To further this commitment, on Sept. 29-30, Gwynedd Meeting will host a Camp-a-Thon for Peace. Participants will spend a night under the stars on the meetinghouse grounds off DeKalb Pike in solidarity with the millions worldwide who have fled war and violence.
The event will include intergenerational games, a campfire and two simple meals. For more information, visit: