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Image / Editorial

Aleppo: We Must Bear Witness

by Ellie Balfe
15th Dec 2016

Last night, I had a nightmare. It was the first real nightmare I have had in a very long time (maybe 15 years). It was one of those that jolted me awake with a pounding heart and a wet face – I had been crying in my sleep.
Before bed, I watched the video of the people in Aleppo pleading for help. I read articles on the BBC and other news sites; I wanted to feel as up to date as I could be on what was going on. I wanted to bear witness, in my own small way. I was upset, and, on going to bed, I knew I would take the feelings into my dreams.

And I did. I dreamt that I was hiding in an old falling down house with my two daughters and their father. There was a predatory presence that was faceless and terrifying. The house started crumbling at the edges, with our footing becoming unstable. In the dream, I told my girls? Dad to take our eldest daughter to another place, and I would keep our youngest.
The next scene was the one that woke me; the predator came close and I had to hand my daughter over to it – I had no choice. And I had to say her name.
It was the saying of her name, as I handed her up against my will, which broke the spell and shook me awake. I jumped from bed and went in to where she was safely sleeping. I cried for a bit, calmed my breath, and then kissed her head.

But that was my nightmare. This is the daily reality for parents in Aleppo.

We are all feeling it; that feeling close to emotional desperation, that sense of hopelessness. Aleppo, and its? people, are dying in front of our eyes and we don’t know what to do.

Social media has amplified this horror straight into our newsfeeds, straight into our personal space, if you will, via the intimacy of our smartphones. Every scroll brings more videos, more tweets, more desperate pleas for help from the people trapped there. They are documenting what may well be, their last hours. We see their burnt houses and their dead loved ones. We can see their eyes.

Their eyes. Look in their eyes?


Never before, for me anyway, has a war felt so present due to its? presence in my social feeds (can we even call it a war? It’s genocide, surely). Never before have I, and all the people I know, wanted to help so much. But the thing is, there’s something unclear about this one – and it’s how to help. It is also maddening that we feel the correct agencies are not helping, as they should. Granted, it’s a complex situation, I read yesterday that upwards of 1500 forces are fighting in the region, nothing is black and white, nothing is cut and dry.

But that must lie aside, look in their eyes – innocent people are being hunted, hurt, raped and killed. The city is beyond repair, generations are wiped out, children are witnessing, and falling prey to, an evil beyond comprehension.

We must bear witness. We must step up in the ways we can. We learned with the US election, that it is not enough to simply re-tweet, share and talk to our friends about it over glasses of wine. That just makes us armchair protestors, keyboard warriors, wishers, hopers and passive put-the-world-to righters. That does not influence results.


What good does a bit of social media outrage do? Well, it does do some good in terms of spreading awareness – but this war is six years old now. It’s not news. We know about it. We’ve turned our eyes away. Before now.
These people have suffered while in the past six years most of us have lived through a good few life milestones, we may have moved house, moved jobs, changed relationships, had kids, got married, got divorced.
The people of Aleppo won’t do any of those things. They are not getting ready for Christmas, thinking of presents, and parties and what-the-Hell-to-get-the-mother-in-law.

All they have to do is die.

But, we must bear witness.

To me, the phrase ?bearing witness?, means to notice, to take it truly in, to register the impact of something. In this instance, this means we must not turn away. Yes, the videos are beyond heartbreaking, bringing a lot of us to tears. Yes, the articles are shocking, beyond our comprehension of what we deem to be civilized. Yes, it’s all too much. Yes, the temptation is to cling close to our families, to feel the joy of their presence, our stable homes and food, warmth and comforts this Christmas. Holding them tight, and being grateful for our safety this Christmas is a wonderful thing and aren’t we lucky.

But it changes nothing for Aleppo.

So, although we feel powerless as individuals, we still must apply our anguish and try to help. If we can’t enact noticeable change, per se, we can help a little. And don’t be put off by small things; if enough people do small things, they become big things.

And at least then, we can bear witness. At least then, we can look in their eyes.
If it’s not too late.


How You Can Help: Why not do a collection at work, or amongst your family and donate.

  1. Donate to Syrias?Vibes

Set up by Dublin DJ, Calvin James, who, on a personal level, decided to really make a change by travelling to Syria and volunteering there as as first-responder medic and ambulance driver. Syrias Vibes is a donation fund for the emergency clinic he worked with that will buy two new ambulances and supplies after Christmas.

  1. Donate to Oxfam Ireland & Medecins Sans Frontieres

Oxfam are, as ever, are doing great work to save the children of Aleppo, and are warning us of the dangers of the Syrian Winter – donate for supplies, medicines, and food for those in the?greatest distress.

?This is one of the worst crises MSF has witnessed in years,? said Teresa Sancristoval, Head of MSF’s Emergency Unit for Aleppo. ?We remind all sides that even war has rules. It is paramount that all parties allow people to flee to safety, allow the evacuation of sick and wounded, and facilitate the provision of protection and humanitarian assistance to those that are caught on the front lines.?

  1. Lobby for them

We spoke to Uplift, and they offered this approach, ?together we can put huge pressure on our Foreign Affairs Minister, Charlie Flanagan to help secure safe passage of these civilians. The UN have a plan in place for evacuation, it just needs world leaders to implement it. Every second counts;?call Depart of Foreign Affairs 01 4082000.