The White Helmets

Katie Nelson

Since 2011, Syria has been paralyzed by a gruesome civil war between the Assad regime, the Kurds, and rebel groups. The conflict has displaced more than 11 million (both internally and externally) as refugees, and killed nearly 500,000. In 2017 alone, the United Nations requested $8 billion in aid to put towards “the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.” As the fighting intensifies, it is Syrians themselves who feel its weight on their shoulders.

The Syrian Civil Defense (SCD) is at the forefront of the conflict. What started in 2012 as a makeshift series of rescue teams evolved into a more cohesive volunteer-based unit, now colloquially known as the “White Helmets.” The White Helmets come from all walks of life, from students and artisans, to doctors, engineers, and teachers. Their mission is simple: “To save the greatest number of lives in the shortest possible time and to minimize further injury to people and damage to property.” The group primarily deals with the aftermath of governmental airstrikes, but at its core, the SCD is wholly dedicated to providing nonpartisan aid to nearly seven million Syrians. In addition to operating as a first-response unit, the White Helmets’ work spans across a multitude of sectors in the public sphere including distributing information, rewiring electrical cables, and checking the safety of affected buildings. The volunteers’ pledges to the pillars of “Humanity, Solidarity, [and] Impartiality” aligns them with the courageous values of the group, with one another, and adheres them to the betterment of Syria herself in her darkest hour.

In 2016, the White Helmets were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and won the year’s Right Livelihood Award for their service to the international community. That same year, Netflix released its documentary “The White Helmets” featuring the group, produced by the Oscar-nominated team behind “Virunga.” While key players in the battle have continuously flirted with peace negotiations, fighting in its current state seems to be at best an inconsistent ceasefire. Yet organizations like the White Helmets keep hope alive for millions and epitomizes altruistic volunteering.

To learn more about the White Helmets, please check out these links:



1. Durando, Jessica. “Syria’s civil war: Disturbing facts show cost of conflict.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, 14 Mar. 2017. Web. 06 July 2017.
2. “Syria: The worst humanitarian crisis of our time.” Amnesty International NZ. Amnesty International, 7 Apr. 2015. Web. 06 July 2017.
3. “Volunteers to Save Lives.” Volunteers to Save Lives | SCD. Web. 20 June 2017.
4. Campaign, The Syria. “Meet the heroes saving Syria.” Support the White Helmets. Web. 17 June 2017.
5. “Syria’s White Helmets win ‘alternative Nobel Prize’.” BBC News. BBC, 22 Sept. 2016. Web. 23 June 2017.

Current Event-Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR)

By Molly Dietrich

western-saharaThe last colony in Africa was not conquered by Europeans, the invasion was by another African country. About 80% of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), formally known as Western Sahara, went under Moroccan control after the Spanish withdrew from the area in 1976. The Sahrawi Polisario front fought for their land through guerilla warfare until a ceasefire in 1991. The conflict is physically illustrated by the “sand berm” or wall built by the Moroccans that stretches 1,700 miles across the length of SADR.

Today, people of SADR are experiencing human rights violations including the torture of Sahrawi detainees and violence against Sahrawi women. Sahrawi refugees have taken shelter in neighboring countries – 165,000 Sahrawi people are in Algerian camps, and 26,000 are in Mauritanian camps. This is a significant amount of SADR’s population which was 587,000 in 2016. The living conditions for these refugees are terrible.

Although the Sahrawi struggle has lasted about 40 years there is a newly ignited international awareness with the admittance of Morocco into the African Union (AU) this January. The conflict is at the top of the AU’s agenda and international powers are pushing for a solution. Unfortunately, Morocco continues to refuse to recognize SADR. Although there is currently a ceasefire, tension is high and Sahrawis believe there is potential for a renewed conflict.

The United States currently supports the Sahrawis in their fight for self-determination.

UniversalGiving stands in solidarity with the Sahrawi people and we ask you to remember how important it is to support emergency response efforts around the world.

“The World Factbook.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.

Through the eyes of a child

By Lubna Javed

I was allowed to stay up late and watch The Muppet Babies movie on television by myself on the night of 16th January 1991; I was 12. I went to bed quite late, only to be startled shortly afterwards by my mother. She was attempting to awaken my father and yelling, “The War has started.” Years later I can still clearly recall the fright with which I got up. The haunting sound of the sirens still rings in my ears when I think about that night.

I wrote the following a few days into the War, perhaps as a means to cope with a new emotion:

Missile Attack Siren

So frightening when heard,It is what we all feared,

It is what we all feared,

Alarming too,

Quick you have to seek refuge,

To avoid casualties, small or huge,

Perhaps you have to wear the gas mask,

Agreed is a difficult task,

It is a great relief when all is clear,

Then, it is not the missile attack to fear.

My father worked as a civil engineer in Saudi Arabia for a number of years. We were expats. We lived very close to the city of Dhahran when the Persian Gulf War broke out. Most of our neighbors and friends had left the city before the War started. Our apartment building was deserted. WE had never felt more alone.

My parents had “sealed” the master bedroom in preparation for the War. Windows had been taped up with layers upon layers of duct tape. The minute opening under the air conditioning unit was sealed with old rags and then plastered with duct tape. We all slept in the master bedroom. Every time the siren sounded, we would seek refuge in that room. My parents would close the bedroom door and put wet rags under the gap beneath the door. We would then proceed to wear our harrowing gas masks and await anxiously for the All Clear signal to be broadcasted on radio. My 7 year old brother would, without a doubt, refuse to wear his gas mask and my parents would engage in a scrimmage to put it on him. My baby brother would be donned in some sort of a yellow suit that resembled a space suit. Not knowing what the outcome would be after the sirens were sounded was a horrendous feeling. My mind could not help but regurgitate the question, “Will we live?”

Every time the Scud missiles were intercepted by the Patriot missiles, the windows of our home would rattle just as if they were about to shatter onto the ground. It felt like an earthquake. There was one Scud that fell at a barracks housing, merely a few kilometers away from our home, killing 28 soldiers.

There were reports that there may be a water shortage or the supply could be tainted, so we filled a few buckets and our bathtub with water. For weeks, we used to bathe outside the tub since it was being used for the water storage.

Schools all over the city had been closed for more than a month after the War started. I had not stepped outside the house for that duration. And when my school finally opened, with only a third of its population, gas masks were a requisite. Imagine carrying a gas mask to school instead of carrying a lunch bag.

I penned another poem during the War. It should provide further insight into the multitude of first-time emotions I was experiencing at the time.

No War, Please

We don’t want to live with wars,

It’s like being stuck behind bars,

Really annoying to hear jets and explosion,

It’s so much of a tension,

Nice it would be…

To be again free!

War causes great destruction,

Enormous loss of population,

Our homes should be filled with happiness,

Not loneliness and sadness,

Better to have peace,

We don’t want wars, please!

We were lucky that the War did not last long and the casualties were not visible. There are others who are not so lucky. They just happened to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time. We were also fortunate to not have been forced out of our home as the War was short lived. It spanned a total of only about 6 weeks.

Each day war forces thousands of people to flee their homes: people just like you and me. They are forced to leave everything behind, sometimes even their hope for a future. I had to neither leave my home nor my belongings behind. I still to this day have many of my toys from my childhood, including my Barbie dolls and countless pieces of Barbie furniture. I recently gave my Barbie treasures to my daughter and she was simply ecstatic. She does not realize yet that I am lucky to have been able to pass them on to her.

By the end of 2015, an unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. This means that one out of every 113 persons in the world were forced to flee their home. IN other words, every minute 24 people are displaced.

As individuals, we may not be able to necessarily change the dynamics of war or alleviate the terror that child caught in the middle of a war feels. However, we can make a difference in the lives of refugees. There are many organizations in place that provide support for refugees. UniversalGiving connects donors and volunteers with such organizations.





Syrian Conflict

By Trevor Sipos

The Syrian civil war is a complicated violent conflict that seems to have no end in sight. The war has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians, displaced around 11 million and has gotten countless countries involved in both aid and fighting.  Accommodating these millions of Syrians has been difficult, as they need shelter, food and supplies. Not to mention the question of where you find the space to place camps for all of these refugees.

The start of the Civil War began with peaceful pro-democracy protests against the Syrian_Demonstration_Douma_Damascus_08-04-2011regime of Bashar Al Assad after teenagers were killed for painting revolutionary signs. Protestors were met with violence by the Syrian government and this eventually led to rebels fighting back against the regime. The conflict is complicated because it is not just people fighting against the government. The rebels are the majority Sunni Muslims and the Shia Alawite sect backs Bashar Al Assad’s government. The Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS) is also involved fighting the Sunnis vying for control over Syria.

Around 4.4 million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq while 6.6 million are internally displaced within Syria. Turkey itself holds around 2.5 million refugees but it’s camps can only hold 200,000. This makes living conditions for many refugees in Turkey cramped as sometimes hundreds will sleep packed next to each other under a single roof. Living conditions for refugees in Turkey can often be unsanitary and dangerous.  There are even reports that Turkey is deporting refugees back into Syria with permission from Turkey’s president Recep Erdogan.

In Lebanon there are no camps for Syrian refugees. Refugees either live in rented housing or with nomadic camps or hosted with families. Schools are being set up for Syrian children but a large number of children are forced to work to provide for their families who are sometimes not legally allowed to work. Refugees sometimes live in homes with no heat or running water. Disease can easily be spread under unsanitary living conditions and without needed medical supplies can turn deadly.

Europe is also receiving a vast number of migrants and refugees primarily coming from Syria. Over 350,000 Syrians applied to seek asylum in Europe in 2015. In 2015, Europe claimed 1,321,560 migrants and refugees. These refugees often travel by sea to Europe in what can sometimes be a dangerous journey. Relocating these individuals in new countries can be difficult, as proper housing is needed.

The NGO Mercy Corps is assisting millions of Syrian refugees across countries. They are on the ground providing emergency relief to Syrians. With your support they are able to provide clean water, sanitation, food and shelter that is crucial to their survival. Other NGO’s helping include World Food Program and International Medical Corps. The Syrian conflict is a crisis but there are solutions to helping refugees who are in need of assistance.