Why we can’t turn away from Syria’s refugee crisis

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Jen Hallee Little, executive director of Calling All Crows. Photo: Anna Kramer/Oxfam America

Using the power of music, one organization is bringing attention to an emergency at risk of being forgotten.

It’s one of the world’s largest and most dire emergencies. Nearly three million people have become refugees—a number almost five times the population of Washington, DC. Each day, more civilians’ lives are at risk. But as a series of emergencies compete for space in our fast-moving news cycle, some are wondering: Has the world forgotten about the crisis in Syria?

The answer is no—or not as long as groups like Calling All Crows have anything to say about it.

“This is a crisis that we can’t turn away from,” said Jen Hallee Little, executive director of the Boston-based nonprofit organization. “To help, we have to remain committed.”

Calling All Crows has honored this commitment by raising more than $20,000 for Oxfam’s Syria emergency response, and plans to raise more in the months ahead. The funds will help Oxfam provide refugees—many of whom are women and children—with essentials like shelter, clean water, and adequate sanitation.

These efforts are all the more important at a time when aiding Syrian refugees can be a challenge, even as needs continue to grow. Facing significant funding shortfalls, humanitarian agencies have already had to cut vital programs. In June, the UN was forced to downscale its target amount of aid for refugees from US $4.2 to $3.74 billion, due to a lack of available funds from donors. As the crisis enters its fourth year with peace nowhere in sight, it’s hard to be optimistic about Syria’s future.

Still, said Little, “that doesn’t mean that you give up or stop fighting [to raise funds]. It means that you change tactics or look for another way to get people to pay attention.”

The power of musicians and fans

In the case of Calling All Crows, many of those attention-getting tactics involve music. The organization was founded in 2008 by musician Chadwick Stokes, of the bands State Radio and Dispatch, and his wife and tour manager Sybil Gallagher, who were looking for a way to give back while on tour and harness fans’ energy for a good cause.

“Our mission is to partner with musicians and fans to create change through hands-on service and activism, with a focus on women’s rights,” explained Little. “Volunteering and music both create community, and that’s where there’s that powerful intersection.”

Calling All Crows supports causes both local and global. In every city where these artists tour, fans are invited to join the band in a community volunteering project. The organization has also collected donations at concerts for efforts like Oxfam’s Darfur Stoves Project. “Oxfam is a great partner because you’re on the ground, bringing in aid and relief … and you’re so well-versed in and connected with the issues that we are trying to bring to our fan base,” said Little.

Chadwick Stokes, foreground, and Dispatch during a Boston benefit concert for Syria's refugees. Photo: Michael Murphy Photography

One such concert took place on a hotel rooftop in Boston on July 31, where Dispatch played an intimate sunset show for 160 fans as a fundraiser for Oxfam’s Syria relief efforts. During the event, Stokes, Gallagher, and Oxfam America Director of Humanitarian Response Michael Delaney shared facts about the crisis and explained how fans’ support would help refugees.

“That’s one of the advantages of working with musicians: they are able to use their influence to tell stories that compel people to act,” said Little. “People were paying to come for this once-in-a-lifetime music experience, but then we were able to share with them that their money is doing so much more.”

Calling All Crows is planning more fundraising events for Syria in the months ahead, including outreach at concerts around the country and a Halloween 5k race in Northampton, Mass. Little said the organization will look for ways to make the crisis in Syria feel relevant for American audiences.

“[We ask people questions like] ‘What if you were forced to leave your home with nothing? What if there was nothing to go back to?’ The more we can make this something that fans can relate to, the more they think about how they might want to help,” said Little. “We’re connecting back to the idea that one music fan, making a difference, can help somebody that is in a very devastating situation.”

Help provide refugee families with much-needed aid: Donate now to Oxfam’s Syria Refugee Crisis Fund.

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