Readers often ask how they can help address some of the humanitarian tragedies I write about, including the impact of the Syrian civil war and the savagery of ISIS, which have produced floods of traumatized refugees.
So, at the holiday season, when we try to help the less fortunate, here are some organizations that are assisting victims of this Mideast catastrophe. I'm also including some groups that do fine work fighting Ebola in West Africa and helping to educate Afghan girls.
One of the most horrifying stories of 2014 was ISIS's genocidal campaign against Iraq's ancient, non-Muslim Yazidi sect, including the kidnapping and sale of thousands of women as sex slaves. Temple University's Dialogue Institute has joined with the only Yazidi member of the Iraqi parliament, an indomitable woman named Vian Dakhil, to raise money to help about 250 women who have escaped and to try to rescue more.
The Dialogue Institute invites young leaders and students from around the world to interfaith dialogues about pluralism, exposing the visitors to other faiths. The institute just hosted Dakhil, who traveled to Washington to ask Congress and senior administration officials to help her 500,000-member community, which fled northern Iraq and is now living in primitive refugee tent camps in Iraqi Kurdistan as winter approaches.
Dakhil is also urgently trying to raise money to provide immediate counseling and other assistance for escaped women and girls, many of whom have been raped and some made pregnant. Although their families will take them back, their conservative society may never fully accept them; they will need psychological counseling and job training in order to have a future. As the public face of the Yazidis, and someone totally trusted within her community, Dakhil is in a unique position to organize help for these brutalized victims. To assist her efforts, visit www.institute.jesdialogue.org. The institute will report back on her work.
The Syrian refugee crisis has overwhelmed private and United Nations aid agencies, with almost half the country displaced inside Syria or in neighboring Iraq, Jordan, or Turkey. Many organizations are involved, but I especially admire the work of the International Rescue Committee.
At a time when most aid groups still sent their goods via the murderous regime in Damascus (because the regime was the legally sovereign government), IRC bucked the trend and sent aid from Turkey directly into rebel-held areas of Syria. Civilians there were in desperate need, but the regime made certain most international aid never reached them. The IRC also helped push the U.N. Security Council to finally authorize sending aid into Syria from Turkey and Iraq. You can donate at http://www.rescue.org/last-minute-gifts. Another excellent agency, Save the Children, lets you donate to a Syria crisis fund (www.savethechildren.org/syria).
UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, is building shelters, setting up schools, and delivering emergency health care inside Syria and in neighboring countries. But as a cruel winter approaches, with no end to the Syrian war in sight, UNHCR's capacity is at a breaking point, as are other critical U.N. agencies, such as the World Food Program. You can get a graphic sense of the Syrian refugee crisis watching UNHCR videos at www.unhcr.org/v-513720856 and can donate at www.unrefugees.org/emergency.
In fighting the Ebola pandemic, the private aid agency Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) has played an outsize role in West Africa, filling the vacuum when a patchwork global health system failed. According to a Wall Street Journal report a month ago, MSF was still handling the bulk of Ebola cases in the three most affected countries, with more than 3,400 workers, six clinics, and 600 beds. Other aid groups are slowly catching up, but MSF has led the way and is overstretched. To help, visit www.doctorswithoutborders.org.
Finally, for those who worry, as I do, that Afghan girls will pay the price as U.S. troops exit Afghanistan, there are several aid groups trying to strengthen women's gains there and help educate girls. One that I like, the Afghan Girls Financial Assistance Fund (AGFAF), was set up by local New Jersey folks to bring a small number of Afghan girls to study at U.S. high schools and universities. Each student has a host family who helps her adjust to local culture. To donate, visit www.agfaf.org.
In the future, I will list more organizations that help Afghan women.
At a time when the world is fragmenting and many violent conflicts appear out of control, at least it's still possible to give to groups that can ameliorate the suffering of individuals. As it is said in the Talmud and in the Koran (and ignored by the Taliban and ISIS): "Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world."
Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer.