Partnerships + Collaborations

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Conflict Hits Home in Syria


Peaceful protesters in the Syrian city of Kafranbel continue to appeal to English-speaking outsiders for help.

Syrian-American activist Lina Sergie Attar MArch 01 spoke at RISD on Tuesday, May 6, imploring students not to ignore the devastation taking place in her home country. “Even the UN has stopped counting our dead,” says the architect, who now lives in Chicago. “Why has the world forgotten us?”

Attar was speaking about the ongoing conflict in Syria as part of RISD’s Dimensions of Engagement spring lecture series. The co-founder of the humanitarian aid organization Karam (which means generosity in Arabic) presented an insider’s view of the conflict and focused on creative steps that members of the RISD community can take to help. She also runs the organization’s Zeitouna educational mentoring program for displaced children living in refugee camps on Syria’s borders.

As Attar noted on Tuesday, with over 140,000 people dead, 2.5 million refugees (half of them children) and 6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), the humanitarian crisis in Syria is the largest facing the world today. While the brutal living conditions of displacement severely affect all Syrians, children are often most adversely impacted by the trauma of war: lost homes, insecurity, collapsed communities, loss of educational opportunity. Journalists have dubbed these children “Syria’s lost generation,” a notion that Attar rejects. “Syria’s children are not lost,” she says. “They are waiting. Waiting to return, waiting to pick up the pieces.”

During her impassioned talk, Attar pointed out that “the media labels protestors [within Syria] ‘Muslim extremists’ so that outsiders feel no need to help.” Even the foreign aid that is sent is used by President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime as a weapon of war – a tool to coerce starving rebels to surrender, she adds.

Fortunately, Karam is able to get food, infant formula, coats and blankets to some of the millions of people in need via a small network of Syrian partners. Although it is no longer safe for Attar to return to her home city of Aleppo (or what is left of it) or to run Zeitouna sessions inside the borders of Syria, she plans to work with Syrian refugees this summer at the Al-Salam School in Reyhanli, Turkey. She reminded students that the organization welcomes volunteers, creative ideas for additional workshops and, of course, financial contributions to help move forward with outreach efforts to Syrian children and families.

Organized by Professor Lili Hermann in conjunction with her Design for Development  class, the Dimensions of Engagement lecture series is co-sponsored by the divisions of Graduate Studies, Architecture + Design and Liberal Arts along with Global Partners + Programs and the DESINE Lab. This spring an incredible array of visiting speakers shared insights and experiences in using design to effect social change, including Fulbright scholar Daniel Feldman, visiting professor of Urban Planning David Sanderson – both from Harvard – and RISD alumna Colleen Clines MLA 10,  cofounder and director of a nonprofit that helps provide underprivileged women in India with the means to support themselves.

Simone Solondz

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tags: Architecture, graduate, global, Graduate Studies, partnerships + collaborations, Landscape Architecture, social responsibility, diversity

RISD has a long history of offering Saturday and after-school classes for children and teens, as this photo from c. 1910 confirms.