Don't Let The 'Boy In Ambulance' Become 'Tragedy Porn'

By now, your newsfeed – like mine – is probably riddled with the haunting face of a Syrian child who’s been dubbed “the Boy in the Ambulance.” 

Because how can we not gawk at, like, repost and rage about such a deeply disturbing image?

Photoshop out the soot and blood and this pint-size child could very well be your own kid, nephew, grandson or shy down-the-hall neighbor.

 

His name is Omran Daqneesh, according to a CNN anchor who identified him through tears. He’s 5. He has an adorable mushroom haircut. On Wednesday night, his house in Aleppo was destroyed in an airstrike, and it took responders about five hours to rescue him, according to The New York Times. 

While sitting in the ambulance, Omran scraped some of the blood from the side of his face and peered at it curiously for a moment. He then discreetly wiped it on the orange seat the way a “normal” kid might brush a booger into a cushion when no one’s looking.

Omran never makes a sound throughout the entire video shot by activist group Aleppo Media Center, which had over 3 million views as of Friday morning. 

He was one of 12 kids under the age of 15 treated on Wednesday, which wasn’t a “particularly unusual” number, according to The Times. 

But this case has struck a nerve. 

Oftentimes, unless we have a gripping image from which we can’t turn away, we, as readers who are far removed from the Syrian crisis, struggle to get, and stay, invested.

And that’s fine. 

So, as the photo of Omran gets circulated over the next few days, by all means, share it. Get angry. Get sad. Just try to stay feeling that way.

Because as is the case with so many other iconic photos that epitomize the scope of an unspeakable issue, this one could, just by the end of the weekend, get filed away as “tragedy porn.”

These are the types of stories and images that are so horrifying, we almost mindlessly consume them.

But, then what?

 

It will have its moment on social media, and then it won’t.

Yes, it’s an unfortunate way of putting things. But we’ve seen this cycle play out before when it comes to the crisis in Syria.

Back in September, another chilling image shook the world into noticing the desperation of Syrians right now.

A 3-year-old boy named Aylan Kurdi was found dead on a tourist beach in Turkey. He, his mother and and his older brother drowned and perished when their boat capsized while making the treacherous journey from Syria to escape the civil war that’s been raging for five years. 

The photo went viral and even inspired some action.

Immediately after the image was released, Migrant Offshore Aid Station, a group that rescues refugees from “unseaworthy” vessels in the Mediterranean, saw a major uptick in donations.

Within 24 hours, donors gave more than 180,000 British pounds (over $275,000).

However, interest in the issue waned almost as quickly as it poured in.

As we talk about Omran, let’s not forget that getting a front-row view of a severely injured child in complete shock in Aleppo isn’t anything new. 

In 2014, Swedish war photographer Niclas Hammarström won UNICEF’s Photo of the Year award for his image of a hurt girl in Syria.

He snapped a shot of an 11-year-old girl named Dania after she was hit by shrapnel while playing in the streets of Aleppo. As Dania’s brother cradles her in his arms, her face appears stunned, but also resigned to her fate, just as Omran looked. 

That story, when reported by HuffPost, collected about 10,000 likes on Facebook. 

What doesn’t get anywhere near as many likes or shares are stories about the increasingly compromising conditions children in Aleppo face on a day-to-day basis. 

Just last week, the entire city of Aleppo was without running water for four days. Children’s lives were in “serious danger,” according to UNICEF, because they were at increased risk of developing diarrheal diseases and Hepatitis A. But that didn’t go viral. 

A similar situation happened last summer and we didn’t see much outrage then either.

Pretty soon, photos of Omran will be replaced on our Facebook feeds with neighborhood children bearing toothy smiles and brand new backpacks. 

But in Syria, where 50,000 children have been killed, there will be few back-to-school photos. 

In March 2011, before the violence began, 97 percent of children in Syria were enrolled in school and literacy rates surpassed the regional average. Now, 4 million Syrian children are out of school, which could very well perpetuate this endless war even further, experts say. 

It isn’t a pretty picture. But it’s another one worth sharing.

Instead of just staring at Omran’s photo for a fleeting moment, let it give us some context and motivation to take action. In addition to sharing his image, here’s what else you can do:

Support the organization providing medical care to Omran:

The Syrian American Medical Society Foundation (SAMS), which treated Omran, provided care to more than 2.6 million Syrians last year. The group provides medical treatment, support for health workers and rebuilds healthcare systems, Learn more about SAMS and how you can get involved here or donate through the widget below. 

Help Syrian kids go to school:

Save the Children, whose facilities haven’t been spared from attacks, continues to bring food, shelter, and learning opportunities to the 1.6 million children in Syria it helps. Find out more about the group’s efforts and what you can do here or donate through the widget below. 

Provide water and other necessities:

UNICEF is working with its local partners to scale up its emergency response and bring safe drinking water to civilians. Learn more about the group’s efforts and how you can get involved here or donate through the widget below.

 

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