Q: How Can I Help?

I’m routinely asked how can someone can help refugees or internally displaced people in the Middle East. Quite often people say they are nurses or construction workers, have some set of skills that they think they can put to use. Others have an excess of clothing, shoes, or food they'd like to donate to people in need. My simple and short answer is that if you want to help, the easiest and quickest way is to donate your funds to groups actively working in the region. If you have goods that you'd like to donate, it will most likely cost far more to have them shipped here and find someone to distribute them than for a local organization to buy goods with cash and get them where they need to go quickly.

If you want to come on your own dime and help, carefully consider why. The overwhelming fact is that you'll most likely be a bigger burden to your hosts than a benefit. Yes, you might have useful skills but do you know the region, have contacts, speak the language - or are you more interested in coming for a short while and feeling good about yourself. Humanitarian tourism is problematic for many reasons- don't make that your story. (Read this piece by Jacob Kushner on Voluntourism)

The first thing I would suggest is to educate yourself as thoroughly as possible about the situation. Read everything you can from trusted news organizations and understand what is going on, why it's happening, and who is affected. Once you have this you'll be able to inform others and spread that knowledge. Informing your circles and making them care about situations is like lobbying. Once enough people care about something, then change can happen. Who do you know with the largest about of power to change something? Probably your government. Pressure them to take actions you think are needed based on your research and understanding.

The second thing I would suggest is to donate directly or lobby for aid organizations working in your region of interest. For Iraq and Syria, my three suggestions are Doctors Without Borders, IRC, and INARA. I have never worked with or for these organizations but can attest to the work they are doing in some of the worst conflict zones in the world. They will put your money to great use.

1. Doctors Without Borders delivers emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from health care.

2. INARA provides life-altering medical care for children from conflict areas who have catastrophic injuries and are unable to access treatment due to war.

3. International Rescue Committee helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and regain control of their future.