It's that time of year when people draw up their Christmas card lists - we spend over £900m on packs of festive cards a year in the UK, according to the most recent figures, showing an attachment to this tradition despite the rise of social media. The cards we send out often show highly romanticised nativity scenes set in the Middle East, such as those painted in rich colours, covered in glitter, or even designed in a 3D pop-up style.
At Doctors of the World, an international medical charity, we recently launched some Christmas cards with a twist. Released at the start of Advent on 27 November, the cards starkly juxtapose those vintage nativity scenes with modern-day photos of conflict zones across the Middle East. The cards, with names including 'Not So Silent Night' and 'The Star of Bedlam', were designed for us pro bono by advertising agency McCann London and feature Press Association photos from the last year.
Just like us, many of McCann London's creative team had been moved by the human tragedies taking place in the Middle East. So they approached us with this striking design because they wanted to use their expertise to make a difference.
Together, our aim is to remind the public that this year war has forced millions from their homes - and that those people really need our help. Armed conflicts in countries such as Syria and Iraq have made people of all faiths and of none lose their families, homes and livelihoods. One of our brilliant volunteer doctors, reflecting on her stints treating Iraqi refugees in transit camps, recently told us: "Every person I met had lost someone they loved."
We've been overwhelmed by the positive response to our cards, by the willingness of ordinary people to support our work and spread awareness of the realities of today's Middle East. Our first batches of cards sold out within 48 hours and we've since ordered thousands more to keep up with demand. We've had orders from across Europe, as well as the US, Japan and Australia.
The money we receive from these sales will support our work with vulnerable people in the Middle East and around the world. In the Middle East, we run static and mobile clinics that help refugees and internally displaced people. We also work with local medical staff and support existing health facilities. Last year alone, our medics, midwives and psychologists provided over 580,000 people with medical care and carried out over 8,560 mental health consultations in Syria, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
Doctors of the World UK is part of the global Médecins du Monde network, which was founded over three decades ago and delivers projects in 80 countries through 3,000 volunteers. We believe in a world where people affected by war, natural disasters, disease, hunger, poverty or exclusion get the healthcare they need regardless of income or status. We are apolitical and non-religious.
A £5 donation to our charity can provide vaccines for three children, a £10 donation can provide a toiletries kit for someone forced to leave their home, and a £20 donation can psychological consultations for six survivors of conflict. A pack of our Christmas cards costs £10.
Last week, we also launched a petition to call on Prime Minister Theresa May to authorize air bridges that would allow aid to get into eastern Aleppo and besieged areas across Syria. We have also demanded that she work with other world leaders on an urgent strategy to protect eastern Aleppo's civilians.
Since Syria's conflict began in 2011, over a quarter of a million Syrians have been killed, 1 million have been injured, and more than 11 million have been forced from their homes. The conflict has placed a huge strain on health systems across this region, resulting in overwhelming numbers of patients, overworked staff, and shortages of medicines. Over half of Syria's public hospitals are either closed or only partially functioning.
We're all delighted that so many people are seeing and sharing the cards, and that they're sparking broader conversations. Most importantly, we're delighted that funds are being raised so that we can continue making a difference to people's lives.
We're working hard to reach those in need. We hope that you will continue to show your amazing support for our campaign and to help us spread the most festive feeling of all: Hope.
A pack of four limited edition cards, each of a different design, can be purchased for £10 from Doctors of the World at its website: www.doctorsoftheworld.org.uk or by calling 020 7167 5789.
Proceeds from the sale of each pack will help the organisation provide vital medical aid to people who've been forced from their homes by war.