The conflict in Syria has continued for five years. Nearly 300,000 people have lost their lives, millions have had to leave their homes and flee as refugees to other parts of Syria or across borders, and parts of the country, like the capital Aleppo, are in ruins. Not long ago, a picture of a dust- and blood covered 5-year old boy Omran sitting in the back of an ambulance was seared into our brains as a symbol of a war that seems to have no end. We are viewers, through our TV and computer screens, many of us paralyzed and not knowing what, if anything, we should – or can – do.
But there is always something. Some action each and every one of us can take to somehow help the people trapped in this conflict. But what we cannot keep doing any longer is be silent. UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, described the situation in Syria in these words:
“Syria is the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time, a continuing cause of suffering for millions which should be garnering a groundswell of support around the world”
So what can our support look like? It can take many shapes and forms – and one of those is creating a civil movement around this issue. This is what is happening in Helsinki, capital of Finland. In this small remote Nordic country, local activists, human rights defenders, organizers and other stakeholders came together as private citizens with one shared goal: to do something to help people in Syria. Soon, there were 200 of us, putting our heads, minds and talents together to come up with something concrete we could do – and out of this, came a plan for a peace march and support concert for 24 October – UN Day.
200 private citizens, ranging from communications people and journalists to musicians and radio hosts, NGO and civil society workers to people in the private sector, have volunteered their time around the clock for the past week to put everything together. To create the event, to write press releases, to come up with demands we can present to our own government, to get artists to perform in the benefit concert, to design materials. In a matter of a day, several private Facebook groups were formed for different parts of the planning: communications, marketing, mobilization, concert. People who had never met each other or worked together found a common goal, and came together around that.
The result? A peace march planned for Monday, with over 2,000 people signed up to participate as of Friday, and a benefit concert with several well known and successful Finnish and international musicians, artists, singers and performers lined up to perform for free – with all proceeds going to NGOs who have a formal partnership with the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and are working in Syria to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. The group behind it all is also doing their best to make this into a global movement, and use #Helsinki4Syria as a catalyst for similar action not only across Europe but around the world. No action is too small or meaningless – one person can organize a fundraiser in a local bar, put together a panel discussion to raise awareness, create a social media campaign, write a letter to a political representative, initiate a petition. We can all find a way to help, to do something, to do anything – just not stand by silently.
#Helsinki4Syria is becoming a national movement – but with your help, we can make it a global one. There is no more time to waste – Aleppo, referred to as a “slaughter house” by a UN Chief, is being torn apart by air strikes and bombs, and those suffering the most are, as always, women and children. Stopping this is our global, shared responsibility.
So here is what you can do:
- If you are in Helsinki, come to the peace march and concert and spread the word about them on social media
- If you live somewhere else, organize an event of your own – a march, a rally, a concert. It can be anything!
- Spread the word on social media with #SaveSyria, #Helsinki4Syria, and create your own #YOURCITY4Syria movement
- Make the peace symbol, take a picture and share it on social media with #SaveSyria. You can draw it on your skin, on paper, in the sand, make it with pebbles – any way you want!
Many people will say: this is not our responsibility. Our countries have nothing to do with this. But that is wrong – it is our shared responsibility. Because what is happening in Syria is not only a tragedy and travesty, it constitutes a war crime and a grave violation of the basic human rights of the Syrian people. And raising our voices to stand up against those violations is, absolutely, our responsibility.
- For inquiries and questions contact SaveSyriaSuomi@gmail.com
- Follow the movement on Twitter: @SaveSyria2410
- Use the Save Syria social media toolkit to spread the word
- Use the campaign materials, (includes press releases in Finnish, English, Swedish, Russian and Arabic; logos; videos; and more)
Featured image and in-text illustration by Elina Tuomi.