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On Sept. 2, 2015, I began my third week of my senior year in high school. I woke up in my own comfortable bed, went downstairs to a breakfast made by my mother, and eventually made it to school where I saw all of my friends and teachers.

I was safe.

The same day halfway around the world, Aylan Kurdi and his family boarded a small plastic inflatable boat hoping to reach the Greek island of Kos and escape their war-torn home in Syria. The boat was designed to hold a maximum of eight people, yet 16 were on board.

When it capsized just five minutes into the trip, there were no life vests available.


This would have been the end of Aylan's story if it wasn't for a Turkish photographer who snapped the photo of his lifeless body in the sand. This picture went viral and eventually embodied the innocent children who have lost their lives trying to escape their country.

The world was outraged. The souls of millions of parents were touched at the very thought that this could have been their own child. Thousands of retweets, shares, and front pages of newspapers portrayed the picture.

However, a few weeks of outrage transformed into fear when ISIS took responsibility for the Paris terrorist attack in November where 130 innocent civilians lost their lives. "Terrorist" became synonymous with "refugee" even though no Syrian was involved in perpetrating the attack.

The reaction to Syria changed. The pleas for something to be done became battle cries to keep Syrians--and other Middle Easterners--in their countries and out of the West.

However, the fact is that Syrians do not want to leave their country. The millions of Syrians who have fled all want to return home. America's reaction to this crisis should not be to vilify those oppressed, but to help alleviate their pain. The refugee crisis will only be stopped when the killing ends in Syria.

Syria's dictator, Bashar al-Assad, has not only used chemical weapons, barrel bombs, scud missiles, torture, and starvation as weapons of war, but one of his most powerful weapons has been killing people's hope. As if to underscore this, in early 2016, leaflets dropped by a joint Russian-Syrian offensive in Aleppo read: "If you do not leave these areas urgently, you will be annihilated ... you know that everyone has given up on you. They left you alone to face your doom."

American citizens can easily give hope to the very people who Assad tells every day that they are alone. Through the Letters of Hope campaign, run by the Syrian Emergency Task Force (SETF), letters are collected from around the world and delivered to the Syrian people. It's an easy task with a profound message.

Today, you can write a letter and mail it to P.O. Box 250972; Little Rock, Ark. 72225, and we will take your letter to Syria, and one more person will know that free Americans stand in solidarity with them.

I just finished my sophomore year of college and was welcomed home for the summer by my family in Little Rock. Though thousands of miles away from the beaches of Greece, my heart still drops when I see the picture of Aylan.

I see a country diseased with tyranny. I see a world desensitized by horrific images. I see a boy who boarded a boat in search of hope.

Instead of looking the other way, I write my letters and gather those of others and help SETF send wisps of paper to a war-ravaged country. I'm thankful to send a letter of hope.

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Abby Straessle is the current Syrian Emergency Task Force fellow and a student at Sewanee University. She is working in Little Rock throughout the season as the Letters of Hope campaign manager.

Editorial on 06/14/2018

Print Headline: A labor of hope

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