Like many complex issues, the ongoing crisis in the Middle East is often reduced to numbers. Five million refugees have fled Syria to seek a safer life around the world. Forty percent of children in Afghanistan are left in inadequate care. More than three million people from Iraq have been displaced across the country since the start of 2014, and more than 240,000 are refugees in other countries. Shocking, yes, but what are those numbers beyond statistics to be read and memorized — or, as is often the case, read and forgotten? When we see values as high as five million, it’s easy to ignore the fact that even the most miniscule fraction of that is a person, an individual with hopes, ambitions, fears, worries. It’s someone with whom we share the bond of the human experience.
In honor of World Refugee Day 2018, we’re highlighting Relief Without Borders, an organization that’s harnessing the power of photography and social media to reduce the distance between individuals from first-world and post-disaster countries.
Like millions, Senzala Atmar was a statistic. Born during the siege of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, Senzala eventually fled the country with her family, leaving behind their home, possessions, and relatives for the refugee camps of Pakistan. There, they lived in fear of the Taliban, who stalked the camps to enforce their laws and enlist young men to their ranks. At the age of 11, Senzala’s brother Iqbal was one of the many in the camps murdered by the fundamentalist sect.
Despite this tragedy, Senzala and her family soon learned that they would be part of another statistic — they would be among the 50,000 annual visa lottery winners awarded immigration status in the U.S. The family moved to America, Senzala’s mother began working for the U.S. as a cultural advisor and a U.N. linguist, and they were all able to begin their new lives.
But, Senzala never could forget the millions still struggling abroad, the ones not lucky enough to make it to a more secure life, to gain control over their own narrative. Eventually, she founded Relief Without Borders, a “nonprofit organization that leverages social media platforms to communicate shared human experience across cultures through portraits, videos, and stories.” In addition to launching aid missions in Afghanistan, RWB works to show the human side of the refugee crisis, to tell the stories of those who rarely have the chance to do so themselves.
If you visit the Relief Without Borders blog, you’ll hear the stories of the voiceless.
You’ll read about Joshua, a boy who enjoys kite-flying (or, guddiparan bazi), an activity that is now legal in Afghanistan after years of being banned under extremist rule.
You’ll hear from Mahdi, a 19-year-old from Mazar, who sells fruit to supplement his family’s income.
You’ll see Rahmina, the young girl whose face graced the cover of the U.N. Special Magazine as part of the publication’s feature on RWB.
You’ll learn about the peace marchers, an ever-growing group who march the war-torn path from Ghazni to Wardak to protest the killings around them.
Part of what makes RWB’s storytelling so effective is their use of social media, which they employ to spread their message to as many listeners as they can. For more stories, follow them on Instagram and Facebook.
As Relief Without Border’s main thrust is one of storytelling, the best way to help their cause is to spread their message. Be sure to sign up for their newsletter to receive updates about what they’re working on, and if you come across a story that you connect to, don’t hesitate to share it across your social media platforms. Even a small act like clicking “share” can create a lasting ripple effect.
Additionally, if you’d like to support RWB further, you can donate to their aid projects here, or you can mail your contribution to Relief Without Borders, P.O. Box 22506 Nashville, TN 37202.
Header image by Dany Eid