In light of the constant rising need to aid victims of the Syrian conflict, members of Students Organize for Syria at UCF will be packing donation boxes to be sent to Syrians on Saturday, Sept. 12 in Sanford.
The United Nations has named the Syrian Civil War as the great tragedy of the century, with an estimated 6,000 fleeing the country per day, according to UN data. Half of the 4 million Syrian refugees are children and thousands of those refugees have been dangerously crossing seas by boats and pouring into Europe to countries such as Germany to escape the crisis.
More than 11 million people have been displaced as a result of the war, which started in March 2011 during the Arab Spring when peaceful protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government began. Conditions escalated when al-Assad's regime responded violently to the demonstrations. Four years later, the civil war has killed more than 220,000 people, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
SOS President Sammy Katerji remembers having homemade village dinners with his family in the country's beloved Mashqita beach of deep-blue waters encircled by mountains, which he frequented during summer trips to Syria.
"But now, the situation is limiting these experiences, where people used to just enjoy," Katerji said. "Not enough is happening with the bigger political spectrum — we should take it upon our hands as college students [to help]."
Dania Fadhli, SOS secretary and a sophomore biomedical sciences major, also remembers visiting Syria every summer. The last time she could go was before the war began six years ago.
"When we used to be in Syria, we would tell funny stories about growing up, and we were all laughing. But now when we're together, and we mention those same stories that we would have told back in Syria that would make us laugh, we end up crying instead of laughing," Fadhli said.
Though by blood Fadhli is only a quarter Syrian, she reveres that part of her identity. Her immediate family was able to leave the country, but Fadhli said she still has relatives who are there.
"We have a lot of family there, and so far most of them have been able to leave, and that's just because they were fortunate enough to have someone in America to help them get out," she said. "I miss the safety. I was always young [when we would visit], but you could go out and walk in the streets ... the markets were really lively."
SOS members encourage any students or community members to help by donating or joining the effort to package boxes.
"People hesitate being active in the club because they feel they are not Syrian, so they don't have a place to help. But in no way do you need to be Syrian," Fadhli said. "It's just packing donation boxes. That's still a step you took to help another human regardless of your background and regardless of their background."
With death tolls and refugee numbers seemingly becoming mere numbers that sweep over headlines and rattle moods for a day and are forgotten the next, Katerji hopes the packing effort will be a reminder to students of Syria's reality.
"They all have lives, they all have emotions, they all have families, characters," Katerji said.
Items that can be donated are clothes, school supplies, blankets and jackets. Volunteers can arrive on campus at 9 a.m. on Saturday to carpool to the Helping Hand Relief warehouse packing location at 1650 Tropic Park Drive in Sanford.
Nada Hassanein is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @nhassanein_ or email her at NadaH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.