Last week when a U.S presidential candidate asked "What is Aleppo?" in response to a question about his policy plans for Syria, I was just as disgusted as anyone.
But I was also deeply disappointed by The Atlantic's graphic photo story in response.
I do not doubt that these images were depicted with the best intentions; obviously the magazine's editors sought to call attention to the violence of the situation.
I do not to pretend to know the extent of the suffering, or the way to move forward.
But this is what I do know.
There is something that was very absent from these images of distress, of tragedy:
The gifts, the strengths, and the dignity of Aleppo's residents.
A Chance to Give
Just a few weeks ago, our team was looking for a designer. We needed a logo for a humanitarian tech venture and I asked a colleague doing refugee aid in Lyon if she knew anyone. Within hours, she had contacted her friend's brother, a designer living in Aleppo. His name is Alaa. Alaa has been drawing since he was a child. He taught himself Corel Draw (a graphic design software). He taught himself so well that now Alaa is employed as a graphic designer for a pharmaceutical firm. He also freelances.
I reached out to Alaa and we chatted by Instant Messenger. I explained what we needed, and just a few days later, Alaa presented me with this beautiful graphic. He refused to take any payment.
I was humbled and honored by this experience, and apparently Alaa felt the same. When I sent him a link to a video that incorporated his design, he was very emotional. In fact, he can't stop thanking me for the opportunity to help.
"Working for a humanitarian project made me appreciate my talent even more. I really hope that one day peace will spread all over the world."
Creating bilateral models for humanitarian aid
Too often we think of refugees as the beneficiaries of aid, and humanitarian aid workers as the providers. Yet, in a city under siege, a country at war, a trained graphic designer was the donor, and the founder of a tech startup was the one in need.
There are times when we have something to give. And there are times when we are in need. And I'm learning that most of the time, both are true. For all of us.
How can we create structures that break down the traditional model of humanitarian aid, that provide a way for traditional aid recipients to give as well as receive? How can we ensure that when asked "What is Aleppo?" we also portray images of dignity?
Perhaps the ability to give, to feel valued, is in fact, is in fact a basic human need.
I just made a donation in honor of Alaa's work to the non-profit supporting his brother, who recently received refugee status in France. Please join me in contributing to Act for Ref, an amazing grassroots group working in solidarity, giving refugees a chance to give as well as to receive.