Caryl M. Stern is the President and CEO of UNICEF USA, one of 33 national committees around the world working to support UNICEF’s work through fundraising and advocacy. UNICEF is committed to saving and protecting vulnerable children, including the millions of children uprooted by conflict, famine and poverty.
Every year I look forward to hosting Passover Seder with family and friends — my children and their children. And every year, in the days before we come together for food, remembrance, and celebration, I write out my own Haggadah. It is my way of reconnecting with the stories and teachings of our faith, and to reflect on how deeply relevant they remain today.
As Jews ... prepare to celebrate Passover and bring forth the memories of our people’s enslavement and subsequent freedom, my mind turns to today’s refugees ... children who are wandering and seeking protection.
As Jews — as they have for centuries, all over the world — prepare to celebrate Passover and bring forth the memories of our people’s enslavement and subsequent freedom, my mind turns to those who are today’s refugees: millions of children and families forcibly displaced by conflict, poverty, famine, drought and other disasters; children who are wandering and seeking protection. Currently, nearly 50 million children are uprooted around the world, the worst humanitarian crisis seen since World War II.
I recently went to Mexico to witness the hardships endured by children and families on the move from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras. I wanted to hear directly from those making the dangerous journeys north to escape gang violence and social and economic turmoil in their countries of origin. I met with children and families who were exhausted, dehydrated and in desperate need of support.
I spent time at a safe space at a shelter outside Tijuana supported by UNICEF Mexico, where migrant families could rest and get safe water and medical attention, and where the kids could play games and enjoy being kids again. One woman I met told me she left home to escape domestic violence. “I just want to find a place where I can work and support my family,” she said. There’s no telling how long she will have to wait for that security — the chance to live life with dignity.
I am proud of what UNICEF USA is doing to advocate for, support and protect those facing such uncertainty, and are thus more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. UNICEF is committed to supporting community-based alternatives to forced detention and in working for policies that keep families together.
Recently, I had the chance to meet with the leaders of the San Diego Rapid Response Network, to hear about their work offering relief to asylum-seekers. We also toured the Jewish Family Service of San Diego-led respite center (which UNICEF USA is proud to support) and spoke with some of the migrant families themselves.
During Passover, when we are commanded to recall the Israelites’ exodus to freedom, let us also remember the tens of millions of children currently on their own perilous paths. May we each make a commitment to helping this generation of refugees reach safety and a land of opportunity. A child is a child regardless of citizenship or the borders within which they are born.
May we each make a commitment to helping this generation of refugees reach safety and a land of opportunity.
In every generation we remember that our ancestors were enslaved. In every generation we eat the matzah to remind us of our poverty. And every year we celebrate that we have left that narrow place, and we pray that all will one day be free.
To you and yours, a happy and a healthy Passover.
Speak out on behalf of refugee and migrant children. To connect with other UNICEF supporters in your community, visit unicefunite.org.
For over 70 years, UNICEF has been putting children first, working to protect their rights and provide the assistance and services they need to survive and thrive. With a presence in 190 countries and territories, UNICEF has helped save more children’s lives than any other humanitarian organization in the world.
Top photo: Families displaced by war in Syria prepare to journey from their small village in eastern rural Deir-ez-Zor to the Al-Hol camp, where UNICEF is providing life-saving assistance, including malnutrition screenings and treatment and health care services for children. It is a three-day trek on foot in harsh desert conditions. © UNICEF/UN0277715/Souleiman