If you read Inside Philanthropy regularly, you know that we've been complaining for nearly two years about the lack of widespread response from U.S. funders to the plight of Syrian refugees. But you also know that we've seized on every bit of good news that's come along, spotlighting those major gifts toward alleviating the massive human suffering among millions of people who've fled their homes amid years of war.
Well, we're happy to report that another donor recently stepped forward to help Syrian refugees, one that you'll know from the big screen, with a $1 million gift.
Before getting to that donation, though, here's a quick refresher on the crisis at hand:
According to UNHCR, as of November 2015, an estimated 7.5 million children have been affected by Syria’s conflict and more than 4 million people have fled the country. These children have experienced displacement, poverty and violence. A huge number are not in school, and the health outlook for these children is also dire. In 2014, for instance, 54 percent of Syrian children under five received one dose of the measles vaccine and only 49 percent received two doses.
Save the Children CEO Justin Forsyth describes the situation: "The Syrian conflict is now approaching its fifth year, and children are the first victims. There is no safe place left in Syria, with shelling and violence omnipresent. Food and medicines have become scarce and basic necessities unaffordable. Syria’s health system has collapsed and deadly childhood diseases—like measles—which had previously been all but eradicated have now returned, threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of children."
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With all of this in mind, entertainment couple Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher made a recent gift totalling $1 million to Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee. Cohen is the U.K.-born satirical funnyman behind such off-the-wall characters as Ali G and Borat. Fisher, meanwhile, born in Oman to Scottish parents, has a list of funny credits that includes Arrested Development and Wedding Crashers.
Many have seen Cohen's over-the-top characters as an incisive vehicle for bringing awareness and critique to issues around the world. Cohen attended Cambridge University, and wrote his thesis on the involvement of Jewish Americans in the civil rights movement. And Fisher's father worked for the U.N., the World Bank, and Save the Children.
So far, the couple's philanthropic record has been modest. According to one source, Cohen has been involved with outfits such as Feeding America, UNICEF and International Medical Corps. Their $1 million gift will be split evenly between Save the Children and International Rescue Committee to support victims of the conflict in Syria. Half will be used to support a program to vaccinate more than 250,000 children against a potential measles outbreak in Northern Syria. The other $500,000 will be used to help fund the work to support families, with a "special concern for women and children, both inside Syria and in neighboring countries who are suffering as a result of the ongoing conflict."
Hopefully other funders will follow Cohen and Fisher's lead in 2016.