A Tale of Two Cities to be Featured at the Ottawa Peace Festival
Join us on 30 September 2016 at Ottawa’s Peace Festival as we share our experience with PeaceTech and the Syrian conflict.
A Tale of Two Cities will be featured as part of a panel on PeaceTech and the Syrian Conflict: What Canadians Are Doing.
The special panel event will also feature our work on SalamaTech.
The conflict in Syria has been fought on, and through, the internet. Since 2012, SalamaTech has helped hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians to stay safe online. Run by Canadians, SalamaTech is the only digital safety programme that delivers emergency assistance and on-the-ground protection to Syrians trapped by the conflict. We have seen how digital safety saves lives in Syria. Our Be Heard training helps authentic Syrian Voices of Resilience to make their voices heard on social media — to cut through the noise of conflict and send their messages to the world.
Many kids are trapped in Syria, caught in the conflict. They feel ignored, as the media focuses more on Daesh or the refugees who were able to leave. We are helping give the kids under siege a voice to be heard. Teaching them how to reach out.
The UN estimates there are some 4.5 million still living in difficult to reach parts of Syria - of which 400,000 are under siege. These people aren’t extremists, they are just average people caught in conflict, trying to survive. Without hope of a better future, though, even the most balanced person might be tempted to violence. Our partners are working to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Since 2012 SalamaTech has helped non-violent Syrians stay safe online and make their voices heard. In providing Emergency Tech support, we assist Syrians who have been arrested or had their accounts hacked. We encourage Syrian civil society organisations to operate securely with Digital Safety Audits and Real-Time Remediation. Our network of Information Freedom Champions provide in situ Be Heard training to support people caught by conflict inside Syria. Together we are empowering a chorus of Voices of Resilience - who will be heard.
In our work with Syrians trapped under siege, we learned about a little girl name Maram who was hearing impaired. Because of the siege, Maram ran out of batteries for her hearing aid. She couldn’t hear when planes were flying over, she couldn’t hide from bombs. Maram’s life was doubly in danger. And this made us want to create a program to help these non-violent Syrians trapped by the siege be heard and find help. And the concept of the Tale of Two Cities initiative was born, to try and bridge the divide.
At the same time, we looked around at the kids closer to home. In Ontario, high school students must complete volunteer hours. That’s quite the luxury, to be told to do volunteer hours for school. It was a major contrast to how youth like Maram in Darayya are living - who 5 years ago were middle class, and had similar opportunities to kids here. A Tale of Two Cities emerged as a way to connect youth in Syria and abroad, providing a bridge to help those under siege, while also helping youth here learn that the world is not always fair, or safe, and that we are blessed and should do what we can for those in need.
Kids are the future everywhere. What they learn and experience shapes tomorrow. We felt it was important to contribute that foundation - and we are lucky enough to have the networks to do that.
We are proud to be teaming up with global website platform Weebly to empower Canadian and Syrian children to leverage technology to share stories and content from inside the Syrian conflict zone. The pilot initiative of this global effort, A Tale of Two Cities, aims to empower Syrian youth under siege with a voice that can be shared anywhere in the world.
A Tale of Two Cities trains youth ages 12-16 in Syria and abroad how to communicate safely and effectively via email and video conferencing with their peers in Canada. Ottawa students will then share those Syrian survival stories and daily struggles on websites they build themselves through the simple and intuitive Weebly platform. The ultimate goal is to use technology to raise awareness for the plight of youth under siege in Ghouta, Syria, youth that otherwise might not be heard.
The technology will also bridge a cultural gap for the Ottawa students to understand how the Syrian conflict has affected people their own age thousands of miles away. Training for the pilot campaign began in mid-July and culminates by the end of the August, 19th.
The Syrian conflict is the first protracted war to be fought on and through the internet. All actors use the internet to organize, plan, and share information; some use it to document human rights abuses and bear witness; others use it to propagandize, collect intelligence, sow fear, and win followers. To the outside world, the concept of Syrian civil society has been largely reduced to that of powerless “refugees.” SecDev Foundation and Weebly hope to put power into the voice of youth in Syria.
“It’s incredibly inspiring to see how a simple website that can be built by a 12 year old can teach them something about a culture and a conflict so far from their own reality. We’re proud of how people are using the Weebly platform to leverage change,” said Weebly spokesperson, Kim Chappell. “Whether selling bracelets made from refugee rafts to raise money on GetaZoeBand.com or taking people inside life in Calais refugee camp through the CalaisKitchen.com, it’s clear that a person with an idea and access to their own site can make a difference. We hope the work of the SecDev Foundation and Weebly will have a lasting impact for youth in both Syria and in Canada.”
While the Syrian civil war continues to rage more than five years on, the challenges in helping those caught in conflict grow. The U.N. estimates that 13.5 million Syrians are in need of assistance - their situations vary, and some, such as refugees, are easier to reach and help. But what about the estimated 4.5 million still living in difficult to reach parts of Syria - of which 400,000 are under siege? Helping those non-violent Syrians caught in conflict is difficult.
There are many Syrians in need. Recently, the media focus has been more on refugees - and not undeservingly. Some 4,819,494 Syrians have fled the country - often finding more danger in perilous crossings to Europe or discrimination and poverty in refugee camps. While the situation for refugees is overwhelming, it is far easier to offer support. The average person can easily donate through the UNHCR. Tech companies can raise $1 million in support in a single day. Landlords can offer newly resettled refugees free housing.
Helping Syrians trapped inside the country is a different matter entirely.
Setting aside the physical issues of actually reaching a besieged area such as Eastern Ghouta or Darayya, connecting financially is also a challenge. Official sanctions make it difficult to transfer funds or services to Syria. While it isn’t impossible, organisations in the U.S., for example, require a special general license to be able to offer support to Syrians caught in the conflict. Without that approval, providing tangible help can be illegal.
Such regulations discourage organisations from offering help to Syrians inside the country. Obviously, the sanctions were imposed with good reason - and in a conflict as complicated and enduring as the Syrian civil war, it can be a challenge to know who is whom, particularly in unreachable besieged areas. It is understandable that most organisations will not want to take the risk in engaging.
Having worked since 2012 to support those non-violent Syrians caught in the conflict, the SecDev Foundation understands these operational challenges. We also know that there are many Syrians, especially those under siege, who feel that the world has turned its back on them. Some of these Syrians are the best hope for the future. They are the voices of resilience in a protracted conflict.
A promotional video for the White Helmets created with guidance from our program.
Through our initiative SalamaTech, we have been fostering a network of local “Information Freedom Champions” (IFCs) who deliver support and assistance to Syrians inside difficult-to-access conflict zones. Together with these brave IFCs, who put their lives at risk to help others, we are aiming to help empower a chorus of voices of resilience – who will be heard.
Our IFCs come from a variety of educational, professional and geographic backgrounds, but they share three things in common: an extensive access to Syrian non-violent actors, a solid grounding in internet safety and savvy, and an overarching desire to ensure that Syrians communicate safely and effectively online. As trusted nodes in their own personal networks, or within their own geographic enclaves, the IFCS play a critical role in reaching and supporting key project beneficiaries.
We are honoured to be a part of this network of IFCs - and even more so that we can act as a bridge to connect organisations outside of the country with these dedicated people championing a better future for Syrians from behind besieged lines. Over the next few months we will be collaborating with non-violent Syrians trapped by conflict to make their voices heard. Together with our IFCs we will support these voices of resilience in creating messages of hope and bridge the divide to facilitate help.
Among our planned collaboration includes a Tale of Two Cities, a pilot initiative that leverages the internet to connect youth in Syria with their peers in Canada. The aim is to foster a collaboration that will raise Canadian awareness of the resilience and fortitude of Syrian youth who are trapped by the conflict. Social media campaigns will be used to counteract the dominant images of violence and war, by shining light on the hopes and dreams of Syrian youth.
There are many unsung heroes in Syria. We are lucky enough to work with some of them. Earlier this week, one of our colleagues near Damascus had his house hit by a mortar. The day after, he continued his work with us, as usual, helping a group of special Syrian children to create a social media campaign to have their voices heard.
Despite having half of his house destroyed, Ahmed (not his real name) continues to work tirelessly to help his fellow Syrians communicate safely and effectively. This is not the first time his house has been hit. And his suffering has been far greater: two of his brothers, also media activists in Syria, have been killed in this conflict.
Ahmed is a voice of resilience in a protracted conflict. He gives hope where every act of aggression seems determined to stamp it out. We are very honoured to be able to support him through our initiative SalamaTech.
For the past year, we have worked to foster a network of local “Information Freedom Champions” (IFCs) who deliver support and assistance to Syrians inside difficult-to-access conflict zones. Together with these brave IFCs, who put their lives at risk to help others, we are aiming to help empower a chorus of voices of resilience – who will be heard.
Our IFCs come from a variety of educational, professional and geographical backgrounds, but they share three things in common: an extensive access to Syrian non-violent actors, a solid grounding in internet safety and savvy, and an overarching desire to ensure that Syrians communicate safely and effectively online. As trusted nodes in their own personal networks, or within their own geographic enclaves, the IFCS play a critical role in reaching and supporting key project beneficiaries.
Why did Ahmed return to his SalamaTech work the day after his house was attacked? It was his passion for a new project connecting Syrian and Canadian youth. Ahmad is leading an effort that is helping Syrian youth to use the internet to tell their stories of suffering and hope. The Syrian youth are paired up with young Canadians who are eager to better understand the reality of life in Syria and to work with their new Syrian friends to together create strategic communication campaigns to share Syrian stories. Today was the first day of training for the Syrian youth following our Be Heard program.