Lebanon, Syria, UAE

‘So I woke up and decided’: The difference you didn’t know you could make

As a #Live2Give campaign for Syrian refugees started to snowball, Aman Khalaf Al-Tawil’s decision to reach out made a bigger difference than she ever expected.

“I was born in Damascus and three months later, my parents moved to the US. I spent every summer I can remember between Damascus and Homs with my grandparents and cousins. Through my sister, a producer for a leading news channel, I’ve learned firsthand about the plight of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.  But until last week I felt powerless as an ordinary person to help.

Fast-forward to Thursday, December 12, when I began to see news reports of Syrians freezing in camps in Lebanon and Jordan. From my Abu Dhabi compound, I was pained to see images of children wearing nothing but socks and slippers with their feet buried in snow.

I was about to fly to Beirut, and knew I was lucky that my Syrian relatives there were safe while other Syrians were dying from cold. So I woke up Friday morning and decided to post a message on my compound’s Facebook group. I simply asked anyone who wanted to donate warm clothes and blankets to drop them off at my villa so I could take them to Beirut the next day.

Throughout Friday and into Saturday, a steady stream of bags arrived. I’d assumed that on such short notice I’d be able to collect maybe one suitcase of clothes, but I ended up with four huge suitcases, including two giant bags of sweaters and coats from people outside our compound. Even after I left, my husband was still receiving bags, which we sent on via Aramex.

Now I know that an ordinary person can act on the spur of the moment and inspire others to do the same. I think we underestimate our power to connect for a humanitarian cause. As one of my neighbors put it on our Facebook page, “Thank you so much for helping us help others.”

For more info – Facebook page with donation request

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Jennifer MacKenzie

Poet, writer and teacher Jennifer MacKenzie grew up on Bloomcrest Dr. in Bloomfield Hills, MI, which inspired her to wonder about places with patterns other than floral. Following her education at Wesleyan University's College of Letters and the University of Iowa's Writers Workshop, she followed a zig-zag course that included a pilgrimage across the top of Spain and a long sojourn in Syria in pursuit of the language of Muhammad al-Maghout and Moudthaffar al-Nawwab. While in Damascus she completed the books of poems "Distant City" and "My Not-My Soldier" (forthcoming from Fence Books) and edited the magazine Syria Today. Her poems and essays can be found in numerous journals including the Kenyon Review online, Guernica, Quarterly West, and Lungfull. She currently lives in New York.

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