A fifth grader empathizes with Syria

A fifth grader I’m working with once a week came up with a poignant way to relate to the 120,000 deaths so far in Syria’s Civil War:

If this were happening in the United States, that would be like 1.7 million people dead. That’s hard to imagine.

Before the fighting started in March of 2011, Syria had about 22 million people. That means that it has lost a bit more than half a percent of its population (.55 percent). For the United States, with a population of nearly 317 million people, that would mean a loss of 1,743,000 people.


Now keep in mind that Syria had about 22 million people, because more than 6.5 million of its people have been displaced by the fighting — close to 2 million have fled the country and are in refugee camps in neighboring countries:


Source: The Guardian

For Lebanon, with a population of 4.425 million, that’s an influx of nearly 15% of its population — and that’s assuming conservative numbers such as the ones above.

As The Oregonian (a newspaper in Oregon) puts it,

To equate the crisis to America, imagine the economic and social dislocation if 56 million refugees poured into the United States, 45 million of them since January …

And he’s just using official figures. If you add unregistered refugees, one-quarter of Lebanon’s population are Syrians. That’s equivalent to 79 million refugees entering the United States while guards abandoned borders during, say, a federal government shutdown. Consider all of Germany moving in with us.

Here’s an image and headline from The Oregonian, which recently sent a reporter and photographer to Jordan and Lebanon for two weeks so they could cover the Syrian refugee relief efforts:

Syrians in Lebanon

The Za’atari refugee camp, located seven miles across Syria’s border in northern Jordan, contains nearly 150,000 people. It did not exist before 2012, and if it were a city, it would be the fourth-largest city in the country of Jordan:

jordan pop

I first read about the Za’atari refugee camp in this feature by David Remnick in the New Yorker magazine. It’s a long and powerful article, and it’s mind-boggling to see the camp on Google Earth — here’s where it’s located:


And here’s a close up — the camp is about 1.75 miles long by a little more than a mile wide.


What I find incomprehensible is that a little more than a year ago, this camp did not exist:


I will be working with that fifth grader to learn more the Syrian civil war over the next few weeks — I’ll record what we learn as we learn it.

I’ll end this post with a fascinating question the fifth grader asked as we looked at Syria on Google Earth:

“What are those red and orange lines??”

red orange lines

Okay, that will take some time to unpack, but we can do that…


About Steve Goldberg

I teach students at Research Triangle High School (RTHS) about US History. RTHS is a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning. The blog posts here reflect my own personal views and not those of my employer.
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