Speak Out for Syria (SOS) was founded at Elon University this fall to educate the community and fundraise for the millions of refugees in need to help the approximately 9 million Syrians fleeing their home country after a civil war outbreak in March 2011.
Senior Molly McDermid, an international studies major with a concentration in the Middle East, said the organization is only in its beginning stages, focusing mainly on the education process in its first semester rather than fundraising.
“We want to do another panel or show a documentary because our main concern is that people see the words ‘refugee crisis’ but they don’t necessarily know what is attached to it,” McDermid said.
She added that there is often a stigma associated with the word “refugee,” as people often confuse it with the word “immigrant.”
“These are not people who are leaving their country to find better opportunities,” McDermid said. “They must leave their country — otherwise there is a high chance that they will be killed.”
In spring 2014, senior Albert Waters studied abroad in Jordan, gaining firsthand knowledge of the Syrian refugee crisis. His experience and passion for the issue led him to become involved with SOS.
Waters said SOS is planning to fundraise for two organizations — the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS). SOS compiled a list of several organizations that work with and for Syrian refugees and narrowed it down to one large — IRC — and one small — MOAS — organization.
“We found statistics that would allow us to determine which organizations use donations most effectively,” Waters said.
The IRC specializes in refugee assistance like providing blankets, shelter and food to those in Europe and the Middle East, while MOAS is a smaller operation based out of Malta that sails around the Mediterranean picking up refugees out of the water.
The idea for SOS developed out of a September panel discussion titled “Perspectives on the Global Migration-Refugee Crisis.” Panelists included Niklaus Steiner, director of the Center for Global Initiatives at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Haya Ajjan, assistant professor of management information systems at Elon and a native Syrian.
The panelists discussed the difference between migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, and analyzed laws that prohibit people from being accepted into countries, which is where the term “asylum seeker” derives from.
Following the panel discussion, a group of students held an interest meeting to discuss what could be done to support the Syrian refugees, and they decided to create SOS.
Though it is a new organization, SOS is promoting itself through Moseley tables, College Coffee and a Facebook page at the end of September, which amassed more than 100 likes overnight.
Sophomore Ben Driscoll heard about the organization through a friend and wanted to join because of SOS’s mission of educating Elon about the refugee crisis.
“I feel that students need to be educated about the crisis and the impact it has had and will continue to have on people’s lives,” Driscoll said. “I am also really passionate about humanitarian work and would be interested in pursuing that field in the future.”
SOS hopes to partner with other organizations on campus who are Middle East or volunteer focused, as well as hosting fundraisers for students to become educated and donate to the cause.
“It is important for our age especially to be educated and be global citizens,” McDermid said. “There are millions of things going on around the world, and at any given time there is going to be a conflict or crisis somewhere, so it is important to know what is going on.”
Though he graduates in the spring, Waters hopes to see SOS thrive in the coming years and said the organization is in good hands, as several of the leaders of SOS are freshmen who have taken charge and are passionate about the cause.
Waters said having a presence on campus is important, as it continues raising awareness of the cause, something he emphasized is crucial for tackling the refugee crisis.
“I really want people to not forget about the Syrian refugee issue and refugees in general once it is out of the news cycle,” Waters said. “We need to keep it on people’s minds and make them realize that it is a human issue. Whether you see it in the news or not, these things are still happening to people.”