KILIS, Turkey — I am a 21-year-old, independent aid worker. I don't work for any country or NGO, but for Syrian civilians.
The project I started isn't just about bringing help, it's about bringing hope. The idea started small and simple: I wanted to take blankets to refugees. Before I knew what I was getting into, it had grown big and complex: I've just come back from Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, where I delivered my second batch of aid -- 500 blankets.
It all started when I finished a university exchange in South Korea and decided to travel back home to the Netherlands overland. After crossing Russia from east to west and north to south, in early October I ended up in Antakya, a Turkish city near the Syrian border that is teeming with refugees.
It was here that I met Ali, a refugee from Aleppo. Ali was very excited when I told him I came from the Netherlands -- some years ago, his son made a Dutch friend in Aleppo. When this Dutch guy heard that his friend's family had escaped the war-torn city, he decided to come down to Antakya to meet his Syrian friend once more. He met the family, except for the person he was looking for. Ali's son had died while fleeing due to regime shelling.
I listened to his story, horrified. I had no idea what to say. Ali kept the conversation going by explaining how difficult life was now for innocent civilians caught up in a deadly mix of violence, cold, hunger, and uncertainty. I tried to keep travelling, but his story haunted me. I wanted to do something to help.
Reading up about the humanitarian situation in Syria, I was struck by how much aid was needed. It seemed that hardly any of the big NGOs were bringing aid inside the country. So far, countries have given less than 4 percent of the funds that the United Nations said is necessary to implement its aid program in Syria.
I decided to visit Bab al-Salam, a makeshift camp situated just a few hundred feet into Syria, across the Turkish border. The camp hosted perhaps 4,000 Syrians, living in miserable conditions.
I was greeted at the border by a teenager in a camouflage outfit. He held a gun -- the first time I'd seen such a weapon, aside from computer games. I was given a Free Syria entry stamp in my passport and told: "Welcome to Free Syria." Before I knew it, I was speaking with the management of the camp.
We drank sweet tea and they asked me what I came for. I explained that I wanted to help, and offered them 100 blankets bought from my own savings. My only requirement was to hand out the blankets myself -- there were stories floating around about aid disappearing or being sold for weapons.
The manager and his friends burst out laughing. "We need 4,000 blankets", he said, "100 is pointless!"