Starvation of Syrians demands that the world swing into action

Lasha Morningstar

WE ARE ONE

January 25, 2016

Journalists, seasoned reporters, are horrified by what they are seeing in Madaya, Syria. Children are so decimated by malnutrition they are walking skeletons.

Doctors Without Borders says 23 patients have died of starvation at its Madaya health centre since December. Television reports show valiant physicians, weary and hungry themselves, pleading with the powers-that-be for food, water, medical supplies, blankets and other humanitarian needs.

In this civil war, food is being used as a weapon.

One photo shows a care worker asking a wee boy how many days had passed since he last ate. The skeletal child held up five fingers.

The government blockade has kept food and medicine from the innocent residents for six months. Madayans say any bits of aid that do get through are stolen by the rebels and then sold back to the residents at exorbitant prices.

The world press and social media are blanketing the ongoing tragedy.

As of this writing, the UN's World Food Program is shipping one month's worth of food to Madaya.

But as a physician told a reporter, the Madayan people desperately need consistent supplies, not a month of supplies followed by nothing. A community of 40,000 is on the brink of starvation.

Given the ongoing trouble spots around the world, it is easy to become inured to the horror stories.

If we cast our minds back to the Rwandan genocide, we see history repeating itself. Roméo Dallaire, the force commander of the UN's Assistance Mission for Rwanda, witnessed horrific violence in the African war, genocidal violence he felt powerless to stop.

His impotence tore at him when he returned to Canada, resulting in his self-described post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He described the psychological disorder as "the injury that starts when the shooting stops."

Now a retired senator, Dallaire wrote the book, Shake Hands with the Devil which went on to be made into a movie of the same name.

Despite all of his subsequent humanitarian actions, Dallaire says he expects to suffer from PTSD eruptions for the rest of his life.

Anyone who has ever listened to this man knows he has a compassionate soul. But what Dallaire does, like so many with PTSD, is hold himself responsible for the tragedy. However illogical, he feels he should have prevented it.

Facts are it was humanity who let him and the Rwandan people down.

There is no excuse when it comes to Syria. We know what is happening there. Like Rwanda, the people are being slaughtered in a civil war.

But unlike Rwanda, we do have the ability to help. If we turn away, we become afflicted with PTSD of the soul. We are a global Church.

POPE'S WITNESS

Pope Francis declared this the Holy Year of Mercy. He is a man of action, a man who built a shelter for the homeless in the Vatican, a man who dons a priest's garb and, accompanied by another priest, goes out into the Roman night and feeds the homeless.

So what would the pope expect his people to do when faced with the Madayan starvation?

Caritas Syria knows. This Catholic agency, supported by Development and Peace, is providing ongoing humanitarian support for various besieged areas. So do the International Red Cross, UNICEF and the World Food Program.

Yes, donations, small or large, do matter. So does welcoming the Syrian people coming to our country.

The cowardly pepper spraying of Syrian refugees in Vancouver demands action. The coward must be caught. But we also must be prepared to answer when people complain, saying refugees are getting better treatment than those on welfare or that their claims are being handled faster than refugees from other countries.

TAKING A RISK

The Syrians are being shot, their homes bombed, their businesses and livelihoods destroyed. Again, they are taking a risk by coming to a new land where they often know no one and cannot speak the language. They must trust us. Such bravery!

One example of kindness to welcome newcomers was that of a fellow restaurant worker. She was a Jewish cook who one evening hurried to book off early.

I asked why. She told me she was going to the apartment of a newly-arrived Ethiopian family. They had come to Edmonton through a Catholic sponsorship. The kind-hearted cook took the Africans under her wing and introduced them to Edmonton and the myriad of Canadian customs.

Her task that night? Teach the new Canadians how to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving.

(Lasha Morningstar lasha@wcr.ab.ca)