London professionals launch funding campaign for Syria
When I arrived, a dozen of the Committee Members had already been working since the early morning to get the Village Underground prepped, ready, warm. It was a whirl of organised movement: running, shouting, crashing, team talks et cetera. It’s a hard thing to do, arranging an enormous fundraiser event for hundreds of people while trying to hold down a busy full time job, but that’s what the NextGen London Committee have been doing the last few weeks. And, as you’d expect from a Committee of impressive London professionals, by the time guests started filing in at 730pm – ready to eat, learn and donate – everything looked and felt seamless.
It’s not unusual for 400 people to party late into Friday morning in East London. The difference last night was that this was to raise money and awareness about one of the most pressing humanitarian disasters of the age. The slo
wly unfolding horror that is Syria’s brutal civil war. NextGen London is a network of young London professionals working to raise funds for Unicef for this disaster: but also to get young London professionals to learn more about the crisis itself.
The roll call really is horrific. According to Ara Yoo, a Senior Emergency Specialist at Unicef UK, by the end of this year 8.6 million Syrian children will need humanitarian assistance (that’s in a country with a population of just 20 million). The country is being systematically emptied of its people: 3.3 milion displaced internally, 3.7 million who are refugees outside the country, living in one of several camps. At least 200k dead as a result of the civil war. It is, says the United Nations, the single worst humanitarian disaster since World War 2. All this adds up to a colos
sal task in trying to just get basic provision to the country. But the money just isn’t there. Syria, despite what’s happening, is Unicef’s most underfunded area of work. Last year, they raised just two thirds of what they needed. This year they are requesting £570 million. That sounds like a lot: but it’s just half of what the UK public spends on ice cream a year.
As we all sat down to dinner, I think what affected most people was the description by Ara of what happens to children caught up in this type of disaster, where war and humanitarian crisis become tangled up. We’re mostly used to thinking about disasters in
terms of statistics (how many affected) and basic provisions (water, food, relief). But there’s another, longer term, impact that usually goes unnoticed: an entire generation of children whose youth is shaped by war, poverty, and violence. Twelve year olds who have stopped talking, who are woken up each night by nightmares. ‘The children are aggressive’ said Ara, ‘they no longer know how to react, how to smile, how to socialise’.
We obsess, rightly, in the UK about what’s called ‘early years’: how a child’s early experiences in life affect everything that follows. And how young Syrian children live their early years is visible from how they draw it. Grant Alyward showed an example of a ten year old from the country being asked to draw something, anything, just use your imagination. The result was a drawing of a lady lying down with blood on her skirt with a baby next to her, a decapitated body, with legs and arms scattered.
It’s incredibly important to turn this around. In addition to all the things you might expect from Unicef –the clean water, the educational resources – they are creating places to play, to kick a ball, to sing, to socialize. To be children again, to smile again after what they’ve seen. Because without it, an entire generation – millions of children – will grow into adults with their psychological and social make up entirely corrupted and destroyed. What that might mean for the country is anyone’s guess: but it will be tragic.
And so the night unfolded: contributions on the night raised more than £40k, a talk from a Syrian refugee about her life story. A video to learn more about the crisis. Pledge cards were distributed, filled and returned. The Committee – of which I’m one – slowly began to relax as the after-party began. And then performances (and surprise performances) from artists who’d given up their time to help out: Any 1’Bro, Alpines, MNEK, Rudimental and Kidnap Kid, to the delight of the 400 or so of us. It was an evening of learning, of discussing, of eating, of donating. And it was, above all, fun.