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Reflections on Tuesday’s Activism Event

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Manhattan Country School’s seventh- and eighth-grade students and their parents came together Tuesday night for a community event to discuss the ongoing activism project on the Syrian refugee crisis. Drawing from their own research and a varied selection of videos and news clips, the students discussed the complex political situation in Syria, the humanitarian crisis it has unleashed and the efforts–which in most cases fall short—to help millions of Syrians seeking refuge around the world.

I was impressed by some of the materials shared, especially a simple yet powerful video about how conflict can turn upside-down the life of a young Syrian girl. As parents asked questions and students and teachers answered them, we learned that unlike many immigrants fleeing poverty around the world, the Syrian refugees are a more educated and financially comfortable group forced to flee because of the civil war. The U.S. has offered to accept only 10,000 Syrians this year, a figure roundly criticized as ridiculously small. Nassim, MCS’ history teacher and activism coordinator, happily reported that his native Canada has been far more generous, but one MCS parent said our neighbor to the north has the benefit of not having been the target of terrorist attacks. In perhaps the night’s most poignant moment, a parent who hails from Turkey recognized that he has not always been sympathetic to immigrants in the area. But on a recent trip home he saw a group of fleeing refugees reaching land on a raft and the sight moved him to tears.

The MCS students are now finalizing a plan to raise awareness about the Syrian crisis and the Islamophobia that it feeds. We will surely hear about it when it’s finalized. Among their ideas? Traveling to Washington, D.C. or Albany to lobby, shooting a video to share via social media and talking with community groups already doing work on these issues to see how they can help. Kudos to the students and teachers for an interesting and thought-provoking presentation!