You may know me as one of the three American Hikers held hostage in Iran. I was released two years ago today. It was, in many ways, the best and worst day of my life. I was finally in my mother's arms, but Shane and Josh were completely out of my reach.
While waiting to board the Omani plane that would take me out of Iran on September 14, 2010, I briefly spoke to the media:
"My first priority is to help my fiancé Shane and my friend Josh to regain their freedom because they don't deserve to be in prison. Even when that's finished my work has just begun repaying the world for what its done for me. I realize that there are many innocent people in prison that don't have the kind of support that I've had. I feel humbled and grateful and ready to be free in the world again and to give back what's been given to me."
The promise I made that day will take a lifetime to fulfill and it's good to know I'm not alone. To commemorate this day I'm helping to launch a month-long campaign for my friends in Syria and I need your help. As many of you know, before we were captured my now-husband Shane Bauer and I lived in a Palestinian refugee camp, Yarmouk, on the outskirts of Damascus. It was one of the best years of my life and the friendships I made there will last forever.
Yarmouk is now a war zone, with frequent shelling, ground fighting and a constant influx of newly displaced refugees. This month, we're trying to raise $5,000 to help a grassroots organization, The National Committee for the Palestinian Camps, distribute much-needed food and medical supplies to refugees in Yarmouk.
To see a short video and learn more about the campaign click here.
When I lived in Yarmouk, it was a vibrant neighborhood packed with schools, hospitals, parks, small businesses and boutiques. It was the kind of warm, welcoming community where an American woman like myself could attend a concert or poetry reading, grab a bowl of steaming hot beans on the corner, then walk two miles home at midnight without feeling unsafe. It was a place where people looked out for one another.
In many ways, Yarmouk is even more like that today. Though shelling and death are a constant threat, the camp has become a place of refuge for a huge influx of newly displaced Syrians. Makeshift shelters have sprung up around the city, houses have been filled with multiple families and everyone, from local businesses to individuals has found a way to pitch in. In a miraculous show of solidarity, Palestinians displaced since 1957 have welcomed Syrian refugees with open arms.
Still, with new families flooding into the camp everyday, there is simply not enough food and shelter to go around. In response to the crisis, a grassroots non-aligned group, The National Committee for the Palestinian Camps, has formed. They have already been able to work wonders, distributing hundreds of bags of bread, meals, food hampers, mattresses, milk and nappies for infants. They have also conducted critical first-aid workshops, led by local doctors, so that citizens can respond to victims of shell attacks. In short, they're saving lives.
What they lack is resources. Most people in the camp have now lost their jobs because of the collapse in the economy. Although some aid has arrived from NGOs, Red Cross and Red Crescent, their access to the camp is extremely limited and the aid is nowhere near enough to meet the needs of the camp's population.
With $5,000 we hope to raise, the Committee will be able to deliver 60 food hampers to needy families, each one lasting approximately one week. They will be able to provide milk to 125 infants for two weeks, distribute antibiotics to children and provide life-saving medicine to people with diabetes and heart conditions.
Every day I wake up afraid that my loved ones in the camp may have been hurt or killed. What reassures me is how strong and organized Yarmouk's community is, how skilled and determined they are to survive. Still, they can't move mountains with a pitchfork. They need our help. Thank you for giving what you can.