CARE’s History Tells Us: No Fear Can Match American Compassion

CARE’s History Tells Us: No Fear Can Match American Compassion

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Michelle Nunn

The last week has shaken people around the world. Terrorized us. We have been left disturbed and off balance in the wake of the violence in Beirut and Paris. It makes us question what it means to be human and wrestle with our capacities for evil. But it also reminds us of the capacity for bravery, sacrifice, and goodness. Within minutes of the attacks, the response on Twitter was the “porte ouverte” movement – people opening their doors to strangers who sought sanctuary in the streets of Paris. Ordinary people invited Parisians into their homes for shelter and solace in a night of fear. There is a human instinct that allows people, at their best, to overcome fear in order to help others. And this instinct is at the heart of CARE’s history and our mission.

Next week, we at CARE will mark our organization’s 70th anniversary. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on seven decades giving expression to our human capacity to serve, often in places of vulnerability and danger. We were founded on Nov. 27, 1945, in the aftermath of World War II, when refugees, having escaped unthinkable violence, struggled to rebuild their lives in a devastated Europe. They were trying to regain their foothold in a chaotic world where all had been lost. Compassionate Americans sent CARE Packages with food that sustained the bodies and lifted the hopes of millions of Europeans.

Among the most inspirational stories from that time come from German families. They recall the surprise of packages arriving from Americans. The people that they had been fighting just months before. They had assumed everyone across the Atlantic saw them as the enemy. It was a moment in history when we showed our best selves, when we looked past regimes and ideology and saw real families in real need. CARE’s history over these 70 years has been to focus on those people in the world who are living in the most fragile and perilous places. Today, we face a similar moment where we are writing history in how we respond to Syrians fleeing their own unimaginable violence – an all-consuming chaos that has driven more than 4 million refugees from their country and displaced another 6.5 million Syrians inside the country. Not long after coming on board as CARE’s CEO, I visited Jordan and Turkey, home to nearly 3 million Syrian refugees between them. I heard harrowing accounts of the violence that has forced so many from their homes and families, the kind of violence that so tragically ravaged Paris and Beirut last weekend.

One mother’s story sticks with me still, partly because, at 9 and 13, two of her children are about the same ages as my own. But there’s another reason. As I talked with her, I thought of the burden she must carry trying to protect and anchor her family. All this in a strange land, far from home and farther from any hope right now of returning. I considered how powerful the force must have been to drive her to leave her home and everything she knew.

When I asked what made her leave Syria, she raised the shirt of her youngest child, age 6, revealing the jagged scar from shrapnel that had ripped through his body.  “What choice did I have but to leave?" she asked.

There are millions of other stories like hers, from people who have no choice but to flee violence and terror. Their search for a better future is taking them most often to Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan but in some cases into Europe or even across the Atlantic to us in the United States. Americans and organizations like CARE have an opportunity to rise to the urgent demands of history — to move toward those that are in greatest need. I hope that like so many others in the last 70 years, Syrian refugees experience the compassion, far-sightedness and goodness of Americans, a power that I know — and CARE’s very history teaches us — is our most significant force.