Written by Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children.
It’s now late fall near my family’s home in Connecticut. With the cool, brisk air and bright, falling leaves comes the promise of cozy evenings gathered around our fireplace and the fun times of the approaching holidays. Each autumn, my family looks forward to celebrating Thanksgiving—a time to connect with loved ones. For us, this means a festive gathering of more than 40 members of my husband’s family in upstate New York. Our tradition is for everyone to bring a homemade dish, which often results in an endless feast of mouthwatering dinner staples. One of the designated bakers, I have already started to plan the dessert menu, which will include several pies, in addition to the all-time-favorite sweet potato casserole. But this year as we look forward to the holiday season, a very different anticipation of winter weighs on my mind. I have been traveling to refugee camps in Jordan and Iraq this past year, where many Syrian families are facing the prospect of freezing temperatures without warm shoes for their children, let alone a cozy fireplace at the ready. I have talked with moms who are raising their newborns in a small tent that provides relief neither from the baking summers nor the bitter winters, like the one starting now. More than a million Syrian children are refugees, with millions more trapped inside Syria—and many families unable to produce or buy enough food. As Maryam, a mother of two, told me, “Because of a lack of food, my children didn't grow as they should. They started losing weight, and it was all we could do to keep them alive.”
Imagine, as a mother, scrambling day in and day out to provide just enough food so your kids can make it through the day. That image really puts Thanksgiving, with our eye-popping, calorie-laden feasts, into perspective. But how do we share that perspective with our children? How do we get them to feel grateful for what they have and to feel compassion for children who are less fortunate? It is up to us as parents to find an age-appropriate way to make the hardships other children face real and relatable to our kids. As the mom of a 12-year-old, it’s a conversation I find myself having when I have to make sacrifices for my work, as CEO of Save the Children, that affect plans with my daughter. Recently, I was returning from Iraq, where I had met with children who now call a crowded tent home, when a travel delay resulted in my missing her recital. As I tried to make it up to her over a cone from our local ice cream parlor, I took the opportunity to explain why I do the work I do. I want my daughter and her two older siblings to know that each and every day of the year—and especially the holidays—is a time to be grateful for what we have and reflect on how we can share those gifts with others. With children whose families no longer have a garden to tend to, and who have to risk their lives every day trying to get bread for their families. The task seems overwhelming at first—a catastrophic war on the other side of the world, producing the horrifying images we see on the news. But a little goes a long way to make a real difference in the lives of Syrian children and families. Just $10 could provide a thermal blanket to protect a child from the cold. A contribution of $50 could provide a heater to keep a family warm for the winter. Talk to your teens and tweens about why helping a child like Warda (pictured below) is within our reach, whether we are 12 or 80. Carolyn Miles is President and CEO of Save the Children. Follow her on Twitter at @CarolynSave. Visit Savethechildren.org/Syria to learn how you can help.