In March 2014 she found herself on a ferry in the Sea of Marmara holding a stranger’s baby. Having spent the few days prior among 15 million people and 150 million street cats in Istanbul, she was on to the promisingly peaceful Prince’s Islands. She carried fresh memories of streets filled with protesters clashing with police outside the hostel room window, tanks rolling towards the city’s Taksim Square— halted, egged. Powerful war machines stalled by resourceful humans mirrored a young population using VPNs to access social media’s calls to protest even as the government blocked public access to Facebook, Twitter and the like. As the boat left land and the chaos happening upon it, the passangers headed to a place they hoped would bring serenity into their worlds. For her, these circumstances were alarming. She had the privilege of growing up in a peaceful American town in the mountains with a liberal, homogenous population. A few days into Turkey, her understanding of the world (and place in it) had been turned upside down. The child in her arms, though, her life was already full of more changes and challenges than most see in a lifetime. This girl’s family was Syrian. Her mother had a kind smile and ability to trust a stranger to hold her precious child in their arms. She enjoyed her time on Sedef Island. She enjoyed wandering the streets, seeing old women scale hundreds of stairs and swimming in cool blue water. But when she returned to Istanbul and her friends in university, she had made up her mind to get to the bottom of something. The family she met on my ferry ride was not the first Syrian family she’d encountered on this trip. In fact, she was alarmed by the immigration lines at the airport on day one. She had noticed families along the streets but it took the initial culture shock wearing off to dig deeper. She met her friends ready to ask questions. What was going on? Who were these kind, English-speaking displaced families? She was introduced to a Syrian student who, with great courage and composure, described daily life in his home country. He spoke of police checkpoints and constant fear of death. When she asked him what other nations could do to help he replied, “The only way to help a Syrian is to get them out of Syria.” The tears which came with this statement were contagious. She vowed after this experience to do something. What could she do for my new Syrian friends and for the little girl on the boat? She didn’t know what, how, when or where action would start.
One year later she changed her degree to Global Studies. She spent time learning about people outside of her white middle-class American bubble. Now, three years later, she remembers the family on the ferry and their ability to smile and trust a stranger in the eye of disaster. It’s unknown what happened to that family, but humanitarian crises persist on a global scale in our world today. It’s our duty as a citizens of the world to get educated, be brave enough to start conversations that matter and hold fellow humans accountable. Civic responsibility demands civic engagement. The consequences of our own actions ripple outward. If we look beyond our immediate actions we can see how one’s impact is magnified by time. Start small. Maybe your kind action to another person will inspire their kindness towards others, and others, until someone halfway across the world feels the soft touch of that action. This is how we can all save the world.