In the last few week images such as these of Syrians fleeing their country have been circulating and dominating much media coverage. People the world over are calling on their leaders to help and they are seeing a positive response. I have an acquaintance with ties to Syria who has been posting articles on social media for over a year on the crisis being faced by Syrians forced out of their cities by war. Articles like ones found here and here and here show the “crisis” as much more than a current one and involving many more than just Syrians. So why the fanfare?
Although bringing these stories to light are important to Middle Eastern communities and effective at helping those in need, the dramatization from the media is, unfortunately, a familiar one. Remember these girls from Nigeria? This horrific crime was never solved and the issues surrounding the offending group, Boko Haram, continue to inflict the nation of Nigeria. What happened to the outcry? The outrage? Why not continue haranguing their local leaders on a global scale to see some action to stop this kind of violence? This story and the Syrian ones are victims of a media that thrives on sensationalism and has the attention span of a 2 year old. In two weeks anyone hoping to keep activism alive for these victims will be desperate for a platform because the media will have moved on to the next celebrity or political scandal.
So will you still care? Think for a few moments about articles you’ve read or headlines that have attracted your attention in the last year. How passionately did you feel about them at the time? And what have you done since then? Written letters? Sent monetary or in-kind donations? Or have you, like your local or national media, whipped your attention to the latest news and left things in the dust that for that moment had stirred your sympathies to action?
So what do we do? The world is too big. There are too many problems to solve them all. But each of us are uniquely placed to do something. Our sympathies are stirred in different ways to different causes and that’s a good thing! That way we have many hands making lighter work for all people in need. But first, it’s probably a good idea to pick your battles and stick with them. Then, don’t rely on mainstream media to facilitate or educate about your cause. Find blogs or, even better, individuals right on the ground of your area of interest to communicate facts and current needs. Stay interested and you’ll stay involved.
But, surprisingly, you don’t have to go around the world to extend a helping hand. For many that live in first world countries this seems hard. “I have so much and they have so little…I want to help,” you say. But did you know there is a need in your own community? I did a few quick searches and discovered that 12% of the population in my county lives below the poverty line. These are people within my reach.
I searched further and discovered within my own city (which is relatively small at about 20 square miles) 7% of the population lives below the poverty line. These people are even closer to my reach. I bet if I attended a local city council meeting I could bring this up and see about reaching out in my community. While needs are great the whole world over, they can also be great for someone next door or down the street. Reaching out to our neighbors isn’t facilitated by media attention (nor does it receive it) but with some effort at asking around and getting involved your small efforts can make a big difference.
So while we should keep reaching out to our global neighbors and get involved in causes that stir our hearts, don’t forget those neighbors who may be reaching out for help and we can’t see them because our eyes are focused so far away.