Dead to Red Race: You Are Not Alone


I have been working with various humanitarian organisations in different countries for the past 10 years. I have worked in Columbia, Palestine, Ethiopia, Mexico, Sudan and South Sudan. I have seen a lot of people suffering due to natural disasters and man-made crises. I have listened to hundreds of people whose houses were destroyed, who have lost family members and who were forced to rebuild their lives from scratch. One cannot compare one crisis to another, but what I have encountered since I started working with the Syrian crisis is something I have never seen before. What I see now is a crisis of an unprecedented scale compounded by an unprecedented lack of funding and an extraordinary lack of attention to the situation. 

This crisis has caused more than 10 million people to be in desperate need of assistance; they have fled their homes, remain displaced either within Syria’s borders or having sought refuge in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon. Ten million people – this is as if the entire population of my home country of Portugal would have had to leave their homes!

I understand that this refugee crisis and the Syrian civil war seem far away for the rest of the world. But when I talk to Syrian mothers who tell me that they do not eat more than one meal a day, because they want to save the money for their children’s schooling, when I talk to Syrians who have lost their entire families, when I think about the desperation I see in the refugees’ eyes during the distribution of simple blankets and shampoos, more than anything I wish for this humanitarian crisis and those responding to it to receive the attention and funds they deserve.

I have been to Syria twice. The first time was in 2009, when I worked in Lebanon and visited a friend in Damascus. I remember how amazed I was by this then-beautiful city. How I strolled around and got lost in the Souk. It was shortly before Christmas and I bought endless gifts for my friends and family: wooden boxes, colourful scarves and beautiful jewellery. I fell in love with Damascus. I can still smell Syria and feel it when I close my eyes and remember the days I spent there.

The second time I was in Syria was when the Syria crisis had already begun. The country I had known before was shattered, totally destroyed. I worked for another humanitarian organisation and visited field hospitals, where medical students and dentists tried to save lives with the little medical equipment they had and risked their own lives to save those of others. I saw young children whose skin was no longer visible because there were too many bullets in it; young girls with hepatitis and without arms and legs. I saw a man in a diabetic coma, because he had not received his insulin shots for weeks. My own father has diabetes.

I ask myself: What has happened that we have come this far? How is it that young children are burnt beyond recognition? How can it be that people die of diseases like diabetes which are usually easily treatable? And, quite bluntly: What else has to happen until we are able to access and support the millions of people in need both in and outside of Syria? A young refugee mother I talked to during a distribution of hygiene kits last week told me that she fears that the world has forgotten about Syria and will only wake up once all Syrians have either fled their country or are dead.

When I run from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea I will run for this young mother and for millions of other refugees who think that the world has forgotten about them. I want to show them that they are not alone in this crisis and that organisations like CARE stand with them in support. But I will also go the distance to ask the rest of the world to do the same. I ask them, I urge them to give their attention to the Syria crisis and to help humanitarian organisations like CARE to provide live-saving assistance.

When I run from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea I will think about the children I saw in the field hospital in Syria. I will think about how I will tell the young refugee mother who thinks the world has forgotten about her people’s plight about our team running 242 kilometres (150 miles) for them the next time I meet her. And I will also think about how I felt getting lost in the Souk of Damascus. I will remind myself of that beautiful Syria and its wonderful people I have met. And when I reach the finish line, I hope that we have come a little bit closer to the day when Syria can be rebuilt again and start a new and better chapter in its history.

by Alexandra Lages, February 2014

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