What We Want You to Know About Our Work in Syria and How We Talk About It

Over a year ago, we set foot in Syria for the first time, hearts broken by the years-long conflict happening just over the border from us, determined to respond. Then last September, you took the next step with us as we completed our first emergency distribution inside Syria, feeding 650 families near Aleppo.  

You kept showing up as the battle for Aleppo reached a crisis point last December. You funded a feeding center with daily hot meals for thousands in the Aleppo countryside, you provided winterized sleeping bags for those forced to sleep out in the open, and you gave food packages for those who couldn’t safely reach our feeding center. You’re helping repair homes inside Aleppo for some of the first families to return, and your love has reached into other parts of Syria as well—showing up in villages east of Aleppo as they are freed from ISIS control, and in areas west of Aleppo after they’ve been targeted by chemical attacks.

Working in Syria is difficult—we knew it would be, going in. But talking about our work in Syria comes with its own set of challenges, too. The situation in Syria is so volatile that with every report, every update, we have to ask ourselves: Will sharing this expose our staff and partners on the ground? Will it jeopardize our ability to keep showing up for families here?

We don’t plan to stop asking these questions anytime soon. The stakes are just too high. Occasionally, there are things we cannot share, for the safety of our teams inside Syria. But wherever we can, we want to give you a closer look at how we’re responding...

1. We’re serving without regard for which “side” people are on.

Most aid groups in Syria work in either government-held territory or rebel-held territory. Far fewer work in both. There’s a reason for that—a valid one, too. Serving innocent, vulnerable families in one part of Syria can make it harder to reach innocent, vulnerable families in the other. War is nothing if not politicized.

It may be stubborn, it may be naive on our part—but we’ve never believed sectarian barriers should limit where we work or who we serve. Syria is no exception.

So if you want to know which side of the conflict we’re on, it’s the side of those whose lives have unraveled in all the violence. We’re on the side of bombed-out, driven-out, desperate children, mothers, and fathers who’ve lost everything.

We respond wherever we can, wherever the need is greatest. We serve in the hard places. We show up for families in government-controlled parts of the country, and we show up for those in areas outside government control.

2. We’ve build strategic relationships inside Syria—because “coalition” is more than just part of our name.

Syria is not Iraq.

We have a decade-long history in Iraq—one that goes well beyond visiting to actually living among the people we serve here. Even with our deep, sustained presence, we couldn’t achieve all we’ve done without our local staff and partners who know the area, know the people, and know the need.

Relationships matter even more in Syria, where we don’t have the same ten-year history of sustained, direct presence to build on. We’ve directly served Syrian refugees for years, but local friends are essential to reaching inside Syria—and especially to serving people on all sides of the conflict.

This is why we call ourselves Preemptive Love Coalition. It’s part of our DNA, not just our name.

The only way to serve in hard places is to go in together. It means showing up, and then getting out of the way. It means listening to locals, letting them guide and shape our response.   

We could try going it alone—and most likely fail. Or we could lean into what our friends on the ground are already doing, join them where they are, invest in their capacity, and exponentially grow their reach.

That’s exactly what you’ve done in Syria—expanding the feeding program outside Aleppo, delivering food to families just hours after their villages were recaptured from ISIS, and more.

For security reasons, we can’t always identify our Syrian friends by name. But they are part of this coalition all the same. We see them as an extension of our team—because that’s how they want us to see them. One of them who is helping us reach victims of last week’s chemical attack wrote us recently, saying, “Let us be one team with two bodies.”

We can’t imagine any better way to work.

3. We show up with our own bodies whenever and wherever possible.

Presence matters. It takes different forms in different places—it may look different in Syria vs. Iraq, for example.

We work through strategic relationships and we have staff on the ground. For us, it’s not an either-or.

Preemptive Love staff in Syria monitor and report on our programming, identify needs, and listen to the families you’re serving. This situation is highly volatile, and the work is risky—a few nights ago, one of our staff was nearly shot outside Aleppo.

And just as we’ve expanded our emergency response in Syria, reaching more and more, we also want to grow our presence—to be in it with and for Syrians, to show solidarity with our words, actions, and our physical presence.

Syria is hard. It’s messy. Complicated. But that’s never stopped you from showing up before. You are reaching thousands of families—in Aleppo and beyond—giving them what they need to hold on in the middle of the world’s most violent conflict.

But as the last few weeks have made tragically clear—this conflict is far from over. That means our response is also far from over. Please consider joining us for the long-haul by becoming a monthly sponsor. Our sponsors make bigger and longer responses possible because we know we can count and their steady support. Syria needs that now, more than ever. 

We must continue to show up, meet urgent needs, and help people unmake violence and remake their world"we" meaning all of us, and all of you, and all our friends in all the hard places. WE are in this together. 


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About Ben Irwin

Husband, father, storyteller, children's book author, occasional marathon runner, and director of communications and PR for Preemptive Love Coalition

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What We Want You to Know About Our Work in Syria and How We Talk About It
What We Want You to Know About Our Work in Syria and How We Talk About It
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