Here are 6 simple ways you can help families in Eastern Ghouta now.

The people of Eastern Ghouta find themselves stranded as they’re caught in a dangerous crossfire between Syrian government troops and opposition forces.

Mohammed Eyad/AFP/Getty Images.

Once known as an oasis just outside of Damascus in Syria, Ghouta has been under siege since 2013. And in an attempt to oust the last rebel-controlled territory, Syrian government troops are launching bombing campaigns and a ground troop offensive.


The bombings have been merciless with reports of more than 13 hospitals and medical facilities damaged or destroyed. Amnesty International stated that the recent bombing campaign is tantamount to war crimes. In addition to air raids and artillery strikes, the Syrian government has closed roads and tunnels.

As a result, some Eastern Ghouta civilians are suffering from severe malnutrition due to food and medical shortages.

Too many lives have already been lost. As of Feb. 26, the death toll has surpassed 700 civilians, many of whom are women and children. The gruesome violence has sparked international outrage. On Saturday, the United Nations Security Council — which includes Russia, an ally of the Syrian government — voted for a resolution calling for an immediate 30-day ceasefire. But that wasn’t effective in halting the violence between government and rebel forces.

On Monday, President Vladimir Putin called for a daily “humanitarian pause,” which is essentially a daily 5-hour ceasefire. Theoretically, this will allow people to leave safely.

But people living in Eastern Ghouta are still dealing with the horrific aftermath of the siege and are in need of assistance.

Hamza Al-Ajweh/AFP/Getty Images.

As more devastating photos continue to surface, it's easy to feel hopeless about what's going on in Syria. But it’s our responsibility, not as members of a developed country, but as basic human beings, to do what we can to help those in need. It’s hard to know where to start — so we put together a few options.

1. Donate to Doctors Without Borders

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, is a global non-governmental organization dedicated to providing medical relief to war-torn territories and underdeveloped countries.

As of Feb. 21,13 MSF-supported medical facilities and clinics were bombed in the recent air raid. Donating to MSF allows them to continue operating in the region, providing life-saving medical supplies and equipment.

You can send them money here.

2. Support the International Rescue Committee

The International Rescue Committee is another international NGO that provides humanitarian aid, relief, and support to millions of people displaced due to conflict or natural disasters. They have been at the forefront for advocating on behalf of Syrian refugees and providing them with humanitarian necessities as the civil war continues.

You can send them money here.

3. Listen and amplify Syrian voices

The war in Syria has generated a lot of headlines, which in turn, has brought a lot of pundits and experts to the forefront of the conversations. Some have partisan affiliations or an affinity towards a certain stakeholder in this complicated conflict where multiple of governments and non-state actors are involved.

But the fact remains that those who are dealing with the brunt of the bloodshed are Syrians. While it’s good to gain insight and perspective from foreign policy experts and journalists, it’s critical to understand what life is like for Syrians living in conflict zones and refugee camps. This is why it’s imperative to not only listen to them, but to amplify their voices whether that’s through sharing their Facebook post or hold events and/or panel discussions in your community.

4. Learn more about what’s happening in Syria

Abdulmonam Eassa/AFP/Getty Images.

It’s important to understand what is happening in the Syrian Civil War to help with families suffering in Eastern Ghouta. You can start with these reports and fact sheets from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs. More importantly, share these resources and reading material to your network. Educate others.

5. Be involved and get active

Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

You can find a list of protests for Eastern Ghouta here. Sign petitions like this one from Amnesty International. Call your local representatives. Use social media to share photos and footage from the demonstrations you attend, and retweet the ones you didn’t.

6. Spread hope

Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images.

Spreading hope is something everyone can do. You can send messages of solidarity to those on the ground in Eastern Ghouta on Twitter and Facebook. You can upload a video offering your support or making a prayer for the innocent men, women, and children under siege.

It was Medgar Evers, a black activist at the height of the Civil Rights Era, that said, “you can kill a man, but not an idea.” There’s truth to that statement. But sometimes, especially after hearing about the turmoil and devastating death toll, hope feels like the hardest thing to keep alive. But when we do, it can make all the difference in the world.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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