The World Economic Forum in Davos this year was buzzing with people coming from all sorts of places, to each advance his or her agenda. Mine was Syria.
The WEF had chosen me, along with two other colleagues, as a delegation representing Syria. One of three young Syrians in Davos, I considered myself unrepresentative of the Syrian youth population. Unlike my fellow young Syrians, I am not under shelling. I am not waiting in a two-month queue outside UNHCR. I am not in my grave, today, nor mourning a close family member, although I had lost some myself. I am not a prisoner, nor in a refugee tent freezing without shelter. As I speak, my stomach is full and I am not starving in Al Yarmouk camp now besieged for almost 200 days.
In 10 or 15 years time, if we do not collectively act together today (because yes we can), there will be no Syrian to sit in my place, as most will be suffering psychosocial problems, out of schooling, or simply striving to meet their very basic needs like a loaf of bread.
In all honesty, it wasn't an easy decision for me to participate in the WEF, let alone be sitting on a panel whose title is "What More Can the International Community Do to Respond to the Humanitarian Crisis in Syria?" As if the international community has done anything, as if it has done what it should have. As if the international community has exhausted all its options. As if it will respond alone without the local community.
The question is: What should the international community do and how will it do it better? I think a lot is expected and this is only the start. This is why I am extending my hand -- through the Davos platform and through this piece -- for everyone because a lot more can and should be done.
In the panel, I was sitting side by side with Baroness Amos of the UN, Minister of Turkey's Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoglu, António Guterres of UNHCR, and Peter Maurer, President of ICRC. This means that those people can be and I repeat can be very influential in the future of Syria and more importantly of Syrians.
I believe each one of us (including the readers) are part of the problem, but also part of the solution. Below I will discuss why, and after each point I will try to give a potential solution.
First and foremost is highlighting peace as the number one demand for Syria today. It is of crucial importance to place a UN Security Council resolution as a top priority today. The shelling needs to stop, safe passageways for besieged civilians and for humanitarian aid assistance should be open. The UN and international agencies can and should be playing a role in lobbying for such a resolution, and for peace in Syria. You can put pressure on peacemakers. The solution for that is to create an international lobby, partner with media and governments, artists and civilians, who are all calling for the violence in all its forms (from detention, to shelling, to starvation) to stop.
The second point I want to highlight is the role of grassroots initiatives such as Sawa for Development and Aid and others in playing a role in the future of Syria. The locals (and I can't stress this enough) should be the ones who sit around tables discussing the future of their country, they should be the ones whom the UN World Food Program invites when setting up changes in the vulnerability criteria concerning the 40 percent decrease in support for Syrian refugees. Syrians and more specifically grassroots initiatives should be the key players in humanitarian aid efforts, and not only the scape goats and the door mats of the International NGOs as information providers and implementing partners. Grassroots initiatives are filling huge gaps being left behind by international organizations and should be a key player, actively taking part in decision-making processes. From politics all the way to the delivery of one blanket, Syrians need to take ownership of their livelihoods. We don't want to be repeating the mistakes of development: top down approaches don't work, one size fits all approaches don't work either. Syrians need to be deciding for their own people. They know better than anyone what they do and don't need, and most importantly what they do and don't want.
Which brings me to another important question: How many more field assessments should be done? How many times will a Syrian family have to answer the same questions over and over again for more than 20 times before receiving one food basket? Are you with or against the revolution? Where did you come from? How old are you? Who did you leave behind? Do you have any income? The UN updates information about the field regularly, and if this information isn't being picked up by other NGOs, if each NGO is commissioning their own field assessment in each neighborhood and each tent agglomeration, then a serious question needs to be asked: Is this a problem of visibility or an issue of credibility?
When will we move to implementation?
The solution to the second point listed above is the creation of a platform joining and coordinating between grassroots initiatives, activists, key actors and beneficiaries with international organizations and donors. I strongly believe that there is no need for a thousand intermediaries between donors and receivers, no intermediary other than one NGO, preferably local. Additionally, all those commissioning consultancies and field assessments should do it through the local and the grassroots initiatives to avoid high costs and replicated budgets, and to avoid asking those who don't know. Again and again, the locals know what they want and what they need. No more patronizing development, por favor!
On this platform, I extend my hand and reach out to the international community by launching Sawa for Syria: A Global Campaign for Action. Sawa stands for "together" in Arabic, because together, we can accomplish a great deal. This campaign's mission is a reiteration of the point that I discussed above. It is trying to go the extra mile, beyond the much-needed heart-warming solidarity that Syrians have been witnessing for three years: this is a call for action.
The first facet of this call is the formation of a global lobby. This international body should put pressure on the UN Security Council for a resolution, but also for political actors who can be but are not yet influential in reaching a ceasefire, in creating safe passageways to break sieges, in pressuring for detained and kidnapped activists and civilians. How could it be that in 2014 there are people starving to death in Al-Yarmouk for instance where Palestinian Syrians have been under siege for 200 days, but also in other suburbs and places in Syria? How could we remain silent when someone like Razan Zaitouneh -- Syrian lawyer and coordinator of the Violation and Documentation Centre in Syria -- who has been doing amazing job documenting human rights violations against Syrians is kidnapped? Where are the international actors who can do something about it? How can we remain silent when international organizations are not doing all they can to support Syrian refugees and the displaced, when at least nine Syrian babies died from cold in Lebanese tent agglomerations this winter?
A lobby of journalists, human rights activists, individuals, civilians, politicians, policy makers, religious clerics, should be formed. This is a humanitarian call to anyone who has a heart, and a voice! Let's make our voices heard, and let our voices be louder!
The second aspect of the call is about empowerment and ownership of Syrians. We have been waiting for three years for the violence in Syria to end, and it hasn't. We have been accepting to negotiate for food baskets and blankets, because building Syria will start as soon as the violence ends -- they told us. And while we are actively (but mostly inactively) waiting for peace, for a resolution, for a miracle... While we wait for Godot... A whole generation is at stake. A generation who should be in schools, on stages playing the violin, or on their respective career ladders, making their way up one step at a time. While we actively lobby for peace, we should start looking at every Syrian as a potential agent of his or her future. This is why I use the term 'empowerment' very carefully here. I call for support to help Syrians empower themselves by merely offering them the possibility to do so. As Sen rightfully advocated in his 'Development as Freedom,' we can help Syrians best by offering them today the tools, the possibilities, the choices to exist and to advance they way that they see fit.
Which brings me to my final point, ownership. Ownership of political negotiations, of field assessments, of education, of each and every initiative and matter related to Syria today. As discussed above, it is the locals who should be the ones sitting at conference panels, they should be the ones running aid commissioned to Syria, they should be writing about Syria. Syrians went out to the streets for that very reason: ownership of their own country. Stripping that away from them is indirectly taking the wrong side in this conflict. I was always astonished by the brilliant talents I located in the tents during my work, amazing women, youth with great potential, children with hope dripping from their eyes. Today, we should be able to allow them to take ownership of their present and future while we wait for peace to happen.
Each person reading this now has a role to play, whether in lobbying, in writing an article, filming a video, donating one dollar, adopting a Syrian kid to go to school, or contributing with millions. I truly believe that every little counts!
Get in touch with us with a small message in how you can help, and Sawa will be the bridge between any donor, activist, human who choses to be human. We will link you with the right local talent, beneficiary family, local NGO, or simply add you to the lobbying list to start pressuring those in power more efficiently.
We should not remain silent, unless we chose not to be human.