Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Realities of Life

It was the second week of second grade.

Things were going well, but it was a sad weekend for the UAE.  As if there was not enough happening on this side of the world, the UAE and some other countries have been clashing with rebels in Yemen. The UAE lost 45 soldiers over that weekend.

This may be the biggest loss of its kind for this 43 year old country - it has been in the several years I have lived here. Officially three days of mourning were observed.

Until now, I have somewhat sheltered my son from the harsh realities of the world. I am very matter of fact with him, but I figure in time he will learn what a challenging place the world is, so let me let him enjoy innocence as long as possible.

The morning after the announcement, he caught a glimpse of a picture in the newspaper I was reading and asked me to go back to it. It was an image of the caskets returning home covered in UAE flags. While we are not citizens, my son was born here and he is quite proud of our residency. He loves the UAE and feels a sense of pride about living here.

He asked me about the picture. I decided it was better he take that step with me than learn it from the playground. So I told him. I explained to him there was a battle in another country and the UAE lost many soldiers.

"How many?" he asked.  When I answered that question his mouth stayed open for a long time as he digested the information. He asked how they died. Unsure how deep to go, I told him it was in a battle and I was not sure.

I went on to explain that this was a very sad day for the UAE and there were three official days of mourning - including 24 hours of classical music or continuous prayer on all radio channels.

Being the curious child that he is, he asked to hear what was on the radio. Our usual morning show we listen to on the way to school was now a continuous stream of classical music.

Thinking he might become too melancholy, I offered to play some music from my phone. "No. It's okay. Leave it." he said.

After several minutes he asked me if the flags would be at half mast.  I hadn't even thought of that, but I told him they probably would be. Sure enough when we arrived at school, all the flags were half mast.

I left school looking at the flags again knowing that this is the day I opened the door to the other part of the world he has yet to be informed about. I barely opened it. It was just a crack, but there are so many things behind that door that we can't hold it closed forever.

.... I wrote the above article the night after this discussion happened, but did not publish it right away.  A few days later, the UAE had another official mourning period. This time not due to a battle, but because Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum lost one of his sons, Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed. May he rest in peace.

My son heard the praying on the radio and asked if it was for the soldiers. When I explained why, he did not ask too many questions this time, but spent more time thinking.... The door ever so slightly cracked a little more.

Flags at half mast in Dubai during the mourning period

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Syrian Refugees - How are you helping?

I did not have the "typical" US university experience. I lived at home, worked and took classes at an inner city community college for a while until I moved on to a full university to complete my degree.

One of the best lessons I had there was in a three minute conversation with a fellow student. We were in a very advanced math class together and this guy was incredibly intelligent. Like the guy that could always solve all the problems in any exam. He was typically quiet, but seemed so comfortable and wise with his knowledge, and knew more than the instructor.

There were many international students at the school, so one day before class I inquired about his background.  In that three minute conversation I learned he was from Cambodia. Before he came to the United States, he and his father lived for 10 years in a refugee camp.....

This was before the internet. Before the general population had any idea of what leads up to and happens when populations are displaced. Needless to say, I was shocked when he shared his story. To my knowledge I had never met someone that lived in a refugee camp. And the fact that he lived there 10 years to get to the US to attend a community college that some people might dismiss from the definition of quality education left me speechless.

Now that we have access to that information, Facebook, Twitter and all other social media have been inundated with an outcry to help Syrian refugees.  The image of the boy that drowned and washed up on a beach in Turkey was a huge tipping point in this crisis, and got people's attention. I have probably seen this image 100s of times in the last two days.

Is it sad, awful, and has everyone wondering "How did it get to this?"  Sadly, it has been a crisis situation for some time.

I could see my Facebook newsfeed full of outcry for countries and their leaders to do something. Only a few people actually shared links about how to help.

Yes, there are many things countries can do, but just opening a border is not enough. Once this displaced population arrives they need the infrastructure, supplies and volunteers to help. This is where we as individuals come in. What can I do?

I spent some time yesterday looking for specific charities that offer relief for diabetic Syrians. Since my son has Type 1, this is a subject very close to my heart. I know that a Type 1 refugee would not survive without insulin. If I were suddenly displaced, every ounce of my being would be focussed on getting insulin.

Through my search, I concluded that the crisis is so big that I cannot find a way to specifically support diabetes for Syrian refugees at this time. I think this speaks to the magnitude of the situation.

If you google "how to help Syrian refugees" many options come up. I have decided to start with some of the organizations in this article from PRI.

Before you dismiss it, and your potential to help, take some time to look up "famous immigrants and refugees".  You will find reference to people like Steve Jobs' father (a Syrian migrant), Albert Einstein, Madeline Albright and many many others that have had a huge impact.