Resources For Those Asking "How Can I Help Refugees?"
Although organizations such as UNHCR and IRC are doing great work to help refugees, this article is focused on smaller grassroots organizations, many of which were formed in response to this crisis. Some of them need volunteers. Most need donations. All are doing amazing work.Project Amal ou SalamProject Amal ou Salam was founded in 2013 and works to empower Syrian children through education. The organization was personally recommended to us from esteemed peace builders who have volunteered with them several times. According to their site: "In the last two years, our workshops have reached thousands of Syrian children and we have begun sponsoring schools in the major countries of refuge (Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon) and inside Syria." They offer volunteer opportunities as well.The White Helmets (aka Syrian Civil Defense)We've written about the White Helmets before, and probably will again. Also known as the Syrian Civil Defense, these rescue workers are some of the first to rush in after the bombs land each day. They're credited with saving over 40,000 lives so far. The White Helmets make no religious or political distinctions when saving lives, they risk own their lives for other regardless of who it is they are saving. Their only goal is to save as many people as possible.From their site: "More than 50 bombs and mortars a day land on some neighbourhoods in Syria. Many are rusty barrels filled with nails and explosives, rolled out the back of government helicopters -- bakeries and markets are the most commonly hit targets. When this happens The White Helmets rush in to search for life in the rubble - fully aware that more bombs may fall on the same site. "The also work closely with the Syria Campaign, an apolitcal Syrian advocacy group which is one of the best sites to find information about the conflict focused on solutions rather than partisanship.Migrant Offshore Aid StationFounded after 400 people drowned just off the island of Lampedusa in 2013, according to their website at the time of writing, MOAS has saved 11,685 refugees from drowning so far. And they're just getting started. In fact they have been so successful they've expanded their operations from the Aegean Sea into South East Asia to rescue Rohingya refugees fleeing genocide in Myanmar, which has been largely ignored by media compared to the Syrian refugee crisis. According to their website "MOAS patrols major migrant shipping lanes. Using Remote Piloted Aircraft with thermal and night imaging the crew monitors the area to locate migrant vessels in distress. The moment one is located, the appropriate official Rescue Coordination Centre is informed."Hand in Hand for SyriaHand in Hand works inside Syria bringing "emergency aid directly to those living under threat and trying to survive in extreme conditions." They supply food, clothing, water, sanitation, and medical aid among other things; and were one of the first groups providing support when the war began in 2011. Since many aid groups can't get into Syria, Hand in Hand is essential to thousands of people still trying to survive in the country. According to their website they are able to work in about 90% of Syria, including behind the front lines of the conflict. Another great thing about them is that 100% of donated funds go directly to supporting people in Syria, and their administration costs are handled through partnerships with other agencies.Karam FoundationBeginning in 2007 in Chicago as a simple food drive, the Karam Foundation expanded quickly; but after the Syrian Civil War started, they turned their focus entirely on the crisis in Syria. Karam (Arabic for generosity) has headed a myriad of projects including starting a school along the Syrian-Turkey border called Zeitouna, allowing people to sponsor refugee families, supporting small businesses within Syria, supplying thousands of families in Syria with food and other necessities, and supporting other aid organizations like the White Helmets. They focus on sustainability and "smart aid" to provide long term solutions for people suffering from the conflict.Small Projects IstanbulSmall Projects Istanbul started in 2013 after Karyn Thomas spent some time with children in Yarmouk Refugee Camp. Currently they work in Turkey to provide classes, cultural enrichment, and scholarships to Syrian children. SPI offers Turkish, English, and German language classes for children and adults as well as a homework support club, music, art, sport and other enrichment programs. They are looking for volunteers to help with these classes in Turkey.Refugees WelcomeIf you're in Europe and you want to help refugees, you can offer your home as temporary housing in what some people call "Airbnb for refugees." This organization started this year, and has already helped 405 refugees according to their website. If you don’t happen to have a spare bed in Europe, you can still donate.WataniliWatanili works through small grassroots initiatives including art-therapy and creative workshops countering the effects of war trauma; and classes teaching basic literacy, numeracy, and English. They also provide the local communities with services, tools, and materials in order to help them grow. A recent project of theirs, called 'Cinema on the Go,' used film to combat the effects of trauma on the children there. They have a volunteer program as well for those interested in helping refugees.Maram FoundationStarted by Yakzan Shishakly in 2012, the Maram Foundation includes a number of different initiatives. The Olive Tree Camp near the Syrian-Turkish border houses more than 60,000 refugees and helps provide food, housing, and jobs for as many as they can. The Bayti Orphanage in Reyhanli provides education to many children who have lost their parents.Medical Teams InternationalMedical Teams International doesn't just work in Syria, but they have had a large impact there. As their website says, they "provide medical and dental care, humanitarian aid, and holistic development programs to all people in need, regardless of religion, nationality, sex, or race." MTI also offers opportunities to volunteer in the US and internationally.Relief & Reconciliation for SyriaR&R is an international non-profit out of Brussels which operates the Peace Center in Bkarzla Lebanon near the border to Syria. The purpose of the Center is peacebuilding, which they achieve through education and by bringing members of different religions and sects together including Sunnis, Alawis, and Christians. They provide a multitude of programs including language courses, vocational training, non-violent action, computer training, and much more. They also have programs focused on helping youth suffering from post-traumatic disorders.They are planning on opening a second Peace Center soon, and have a volunteer program available.The Worldwide Tribe in CalaisThe Tribe is a group of social activists on Facebook documenting stories in the Calais refugee camp. They also work to raise funds to help refugees and have been very effective at raising awareness.Don't forget local organizations in your own city that help refugeesOne thing people sometimes don't think about is organizations right next to them. Try searching for local networks helping refugees in your area, such as this one in Chicago currently running a GoFundMe Campaign. You might not have time to volunteer overseas, but you might be surprised to find how many volunteer options are in your own city. And if you don't want to volunteer, these smaller groups are often in need of donations; not just money, but food, clothes, or other supplies which you could be able to provide.Know any other places for those looking to help refugees? Post them in the comments and we'll add them underneath.
AdditionsAMAR FoundationA nice thing about AMAR is that they use all local workers for their projects in order to help the local economy. They provide emergency aid, heath care, and education to anyone in need, with a special focus on women and children.Salaam Cultural MuseumThe Salaam Cultural Museum has been doing extensive work in Syria behind the lines in the north and now in the Jordanian refugee camps. Rita Zwaideh, Seattle based travel agent and a Jordanian – Syrian native has headed up the efforts. (See comment below for contact information.) Interestingly they started in 1996 as a publishing organization with a similar goal to Euphrates to "promote understanding of the people, cultures, languages, religions, and lands of this region." However, they switched focus and now provide humanitarian and medical aid to Syrian refugees.Lesvos VolunteersIf you are looking for short or long term volunteering with refugees in Greece, this is the place to look. Lesvos is the island that most refugees go to start their journey. Since there are thousands of refugees coming through the island weekly, there is a lot of work to be done there. This site will put you where they need you most, and they always need more people. They also accept donations of money or items such as clothes needed by refugees preparing to make the trip to Europe.Note: They are working on a new site at greecevol.infoStarfishOne of the main organizations you can find in the Greek islands through the Lesvos Volunteers website above is called Starfish. They started in 2014 to "support refugees arriving on the island with a warm welcome, food, water, dry clothes, shelter, information and access to medical support." They run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to provide this to incoming refugees and are looking for volunteers who can commit a minimum of one month to serve.Turkey VolunteersMuch like Lesvos Volunteers for the Greek islands, Turkey Volunteers is a great site for people looking to help the well over 2 million refugees living in Turkey. The site places people all over Turkey, from Istanbul to more rural areas. Just go over and submit an application to volunteer.Doliana Solidarity ProjectFor those interested in a volunteer opportunity assisting refugee children in the small town of Doliana, Greece, this project is definitely worth checking out. They are doing amazing work with a number of different programs. Volunteer applications are available on their website, and they also would appreciate any donations to help support their programs.NuDay SyriaNuDay provides housing, food, and water, especially for families with single mothers or wounded family members, in and around Syria. They also provide education and micro-financing opportunities.
Find more info on volunteering in the US, Europe, or Canada here.