MONROE, Louisiana — Rashida Jones, an actress best known for her role as Ann Perkins on Parks and Recreation, recently traveled to Lebanon with the International Rescue Committee to meet Syrian refugees who have taken shelter there.
The IRC is an 83-year-old organization and their mission, according to their website, is as follows: “[to respond]to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic well-being and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster.”
The Syrian War began in 2011 and over 1 million refugees have since fled their home country and ended up in Lebanon. The IRC began their work in Lebanon in 2012. As of 2015, the organization has provided aid for 57,555 people.
Rashida Jones wrote an essay for Vanity Fair entitled “The Only Scary Thing about Syrian Refugees is That They’re Just Like Us.” She found that many of the Syrian children in Lebanon are not able to attend school because the residency papers necessary for admission are too expensive. A lack of residency papers keeps parents from employment, barring them from obtaining the money for the papers and so on. It is a vicious cycle.
The IRC works to solve this problem by developing teacher training programs and classrooms for thousands of Syrian children. They also teach skills training courses and provide job placement in an effort to decrease unemployment.
Human Rights Watch, an organization generating media coverage concerning human rights in over ninety countries, reports that over half of the 1.5 million Syrian children taking refuge in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan did not receive formal education in the past year. According to HRW, “the longer children are out of school, the lower the likelihood they will return and get an education.”
The effects of a lack of education will last longer than the war that initially forced families to leave their home country. Without an education, Syrian children will not have access to quality jobs that will keep them out of the cycle of poverty.
Another effect of these issues is housing. Without residency papers and stable jobs, Syrian refugees are forced to live on the outskirts of towns, in the Bekaa Valley and in poor conditions. Jones reported in her essay “The only places available to them are the places no one else would call home.”
One of the most devastating realities Jones faced during her visit was the need for Syrian children to work the streets to support themselves and their families. The actress went to Beirut on her first night with the IRC’s Street and Working Children Program.
This program is designed to provide a safe, fun alternative to how children as young as five years old typically spend their weekends: selling flowers, gum and tissues to adults on the street. Inherently dangerous, this work is also illegal and children run the risk of getting arrested. None of the kids came on Jones’s first night because they had in fact been arrested for their work.
Rashida Jones found this and even more devastation in Lebanon as her eyes opened to what Syrian families are facing. “The Syrians I spoke to just wanted to return home. Every day is a reminder of what they’ve lost, but they haven’t given up hope.”
Jones ended her essay by urging readers to care. In a world where information is available in larger amounts than ever before, it is easy to feel helpless and apathetic towards the vast amount of devastating stories we hear every day.
Rashida Jones has hope that we can fight indifference together with organizations such as the International Rescue Committee who are developing effective programs to help those in need. Syrian Refugees have lost their homes, security and safety, but together we can work to keep them from losing their future.
– Rebecca Causey