TODAY, we are in the throes of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. A civil war from hell going on its 7th year, the Syrian conflict has killed nearly half a million people and displaced 11 million more with no home, no government. Whether we realize it or not, every one of us is now impacted. Their violence and radicalism are now our violence and radicalism. Their homelessness is now our problem.
To this global crisis, the new US Administration has only had knee-jerk reactions, costing the American taxpayers and our economy, exorbitantly. First, President Trump enacted an executive order banning Syrians (and citizens of 5 other Muslim countries) to travel to the United States. The immediate financial lost to the travel and tourism industry was estimated at $185 million with an $18 billion 2-year projection. Furthermore, his order banned Syrian families – including children – from immigrating to the US. But after seeing the same children suffer and die from chemical attack by their President Bashar Assad, Trump launched $60 million airstrikes on Syria. One week later, he also bombed Afghanistan, targeting ISIS. This bomb – the most powerful conventional bomb - cost $170,000.
But all of this is chump change. What the Commander in Chief wants is almost $600 billion to fund his military – the defense spending of the next 14 nations, combined.
Let’s Ask What Syrians Want
Rather than more of the same – expensive, militaristic knee-jerk reactions – how about we ask and support what Syrians want? And how about we mindfully and strategically target a catalytic group to develop the future of Syria?
Driven by Syrians, 4Girls GLocal Leadership (4GGL) launched a survey to assess the needs and the capacity of a powerful group that has the potential to transform Syria – Syrian young women who are still able to get an education. These Millennials, like our college students, are aspiring to greatness. They are also refugees and immigrants (in nearly 20 countries including US and EU) or in Syria living with fear every single day.
In brief, we asked:
• Do you believe your life can change?
• What do you need to make changes in your life?
• What is your vision of a better Syria?
• Who is responsible for changing Syria?
• What is your greatest hope/aspiration?
The First Syrian Women’s Empowerment Report
The result is the very first Syrian women’s empowerment report: What Syrian Young Women Want.
Despite a bloody civil war which has stained their adolescence and young adulthood, remarkable 96% of respondents believe their life can change. In fact, they are going to school so that they can become their greatest aspiration. That is being an agent of peace for Syria for nearly one-third of them.
The collective potential of this rare group is even more powerful. Their vision of a better Syria is “where communities take initiative and ownership to rebuild the country.” For more than 75% of respondents, the responsibility begins with them. And they are actively developing their skills and expertise to return to Syria and give back.
But they need our help. When asked how easily can they make changes in their lives, most young women we polled had difficulties. And those who answered that they can make changes had a support system, the core being their families, helping them find their voice and take action.
In fact, support system is how they defined “women’s empowerment” – the power of support to make women strong.
Empowerment is Fear Transformed
Thomas Merton said, “The root of all war is fear.”
Whether from violence in their own country or bombings from abroad, Syrians have learned fear. When I asked a 21-year-old student in Damascus “what is safety?” her response was heart-wrenching:
“Safety is not being afraid of the open sky while walking to school...I hope there will be a time when I stop being afraid.”
Working with bold girls my whole life, I have learned empowerment is fear transformed.
The time is NOW. Whether in Syria or right here in our own country, we can develop the next generation of empowered Syrian women changemakers, transforming fear into a powerful force for the future of Syria.