Mid-February 2014 at the Downtown Portland Marriott I sat amongst nearly five hundred of my Model United Nations peers at the opening ceremonies of the National Model United Nations Conference.
After several long-winded and pandering speeches about what we were about to embark upon, we rose to applaud the entrance of our keynote speaker Program Director for Mercy Corps Operations in North Korea David Austin. I wasn’t expecting much.
Usually when a keynote takes the podium it’s a sign that for about an hour I’m going to have to listen to a bunch of a jokes that don’t make sense and references about the current state of world affairs that are overly simplistic.
Austin was different though, from the get-go he had my attention. Instead of talking about world affairs, he talked about how students had the ability to make a difference and that connections can be the difference in the makings of one’s life.
When Austin finished speaking, a girl approached the microphone with a question.
“How do I enter the world of humanitarianism? Which Organization should I approach?” she asked.
“If you want to see change in the world, don’t wait till you’re older or when you’re employed with someone else, if you want to see change, go out and do it,” Austin said.
When the speech ended I walked out in a daze - motivated, confused, excited and inspired. I went up to a friend and asked her “if I started something, would you join me?” She said yes. I called another friend in California, he said yes. Another friend in Oregon, yes.
I began to think, what is it that I wanted to change?
As I glanced down at the briefings that would define my faux position at the MUN conference as Russia in the Security Council, I realized that there was a place in the world where international politics and powers were paralyzed, where the only real help it seemed came from aid organizations: Syria.
Motivated by the daily news reports that I received on Al Jazeera English from the countries in the periphery of Syria, it became clear the best way in which to mitigate the effects of the conflict would be to help the innocents who had been forced to flee to refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Further research also made note of the fact that a good portion of refugees did not settle in nationally or internationally cared-for camps, but instead tried to restart life in the urban areas of the Syrian periphery.
Since many of these refugees encountered the same problems as their camp-interned brethren, the local nongovernmental organizations that helped them who appeared most in need of support.
Instead of approaching the problem as if I knew the solutions or the needs of the people on the ground, I decided the best course of action would be to approach a smaller organization with a strong connection to the reality on the ground.
By creating a relationship with this type of organization we could fundraise with confidence that our money and time was being spent directly on those who we wished to help. Thus, the Syria Liaison Initiative was borne.
With an objective in mind I began one of the most important phases: research. I gradually became familiar with the particular policies of those who worked with refugees, the ways in which help could be brought and which organizations were most suited to do the job.
After a short period of correspondence Dar Al Yasmin, a French nongovernmental organization working to help refugees who live in the periphery of the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, edged itself out as the organization which seemed most in.
A Skype call was arranged, fundraising numbers were disclosed and agreements were made, giving the Syria Liaison Initiative a purpose to launch its activities.
Today, the organization is on the verge of public launch. With media in creation, a strong partner secured and a base of volunteers already gathered, the initiative is currently in the process of building fundraisers and publicizing media for the future campaign.
The road begins now, and will be long, but in the end it will be for the resolution of changing something for the better and taking action by those who have the capacity to take that action.
If you are interested in helping with the initiative or know of avenues of support, please contact me at dominicodangelo@gmail.com.