WHAT IF WE WERE THEM AND THEY WERE US?

The numbers are staggering. Over 60 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. For every 122 people on the planet earth, 1 has been forced to leave home and all that is familiar — most after long periods of violence and the attending economic deprivation that accompanies extended conflicts. Half of these unfortunate refugees are children.

UNICEF estimates there are 10 million Iraqis in need of humanitarian support; 4.7 million of those are children. 3.3 million Iraqis are now homeless, due primarily to ISIS-related violence.

Think about that.

Let it sink in.

We are losing a whole generation of Iraqi children to poverty, trauma, and inadequate education.

The mind-numbing effect of large numbers and soul-wrenching humanitarian crises can cause us to recoil. To cover our ears and our eyes. To hide ourselves from the realities of a world gone crazy. It is overwhelming in its scope and unbelievable in its depth of despair. As days march on without easy solutions and with continued suffering, we may even begin to see all of the suffering as commonplace and perversely acceptable. That urge has to be resisted. The suffering of so many at the hands of so few must be deemed intolerable and exhaustively fought.

Mahatma Gandhi knew something about going up against great challenges. He said, “Whatever you do will not be enough, but it is enormously important that you do it.” In the doing of small things, big problems find solutions. Mother Teresa said it this way: “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” If a difference is made in the life of one person, perhaps that is enough for the moment and something upon which to build.

Those of us who are distanced from the suffering and blessed with relative peace and prosperity will need to guard against becoming too accepting of world conditions. After all, it simply takes turning off the television or the radio to remove ourselves from the bleak and uncertain reality facing too many people. Our response to these crises, however, will define in a very significant way who we are.

“We must be careful that news of the refugees’ plight does not somehow become commonplace when the initial shock wears off and yet the wars continue and the families keep coming. Millions of refugees worldwide, whose stories no longer make the news, are still in desperate need of help.” — Patrick Kearon

What if we were them and they were us? But for circumstances beyond our control, we are where we are. What if lives were reversed? What if violence displaced us from our home? What if we were met with prejudice, mistrust, and intolerance from others in our time of greatest need? What conversations might we have with our children? How would we deal with a future of uncertainty and insecurity?

Despite the bleakness and great challenges facing the world, there is hope for a better future in Iraq and you can help. Soccer Salam is a coalition of four nonprofits, led by military veterans who served in Iraq, and trusted Iraqi partners on the ground. We have already delivered aid to nearly 3,000 families in Baghdad and across Iraq, including insecure areas previously unreached by other aid agencies. Alongside distributions of food, clean water, medicine, winter blankets, and other essentials, we deliver soccer balls and other toys wherever possible. The toll that witnessing violence takes on kids is devastating, but meaningful gestures of kindness can foster long-lasting memories and, for at least a moment, let children live and play as children.

We are not finished. Soccer Salam is raising $25,000 to deliver support to another 1,000 families before the summer heat sets in. If you would like to make a tangible and real difference in the lives of people with names and faces, please support our efforts in Iraq. You can make donations online here: https://www.crowdrise.com/soccersalam/fundraiser/karadahproject

LTC (retired) Rick Burns is founder and president of The Karadah Project International, an Iowa 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation working in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a proud member of the Council Bluffs Iowa Sister Cities International Board of Directors, US Global Leadership Coalition — Iowa Advisory Committee, Atlantic, Iowa Rotary Club, Elk Horn, Iowa American Legion, Lansing, Kansas Kiwanis, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and founding member of Soccer Salam; all organizations making positive and significant impacts on the world.