What we see and what we say



The picture of a three-year-old Syrian boy lying lifeless on a beach in Turkey flooded many of our social media feeds one year ago.

In the photo, Alan Kurdi’s body lies on the beach as two Turkish police officers stand nearby.

Alan, along with his five-year-old brother, his 35-year-old mother and ten other Syrian refugees, drowned on September 2, 2015. The overcrowded dinghy they used to flee Syria capsized off the shore of Bodrum, Turkey.

The horror of the photo spurred an emotional movement around the world. Suddenly, people were aware of the Syrian crisis, which started in 2011.

In Canada, the response was particularly strong.  Political parties and voters brought up the government’s response to Syrian refugees during the 2015 federal election campaign.

After Justin Trudeau became the new prime minister, the Liberal government welcomed 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of February.

It seemed as if the much-needed attention on Syria was finally here.

Maclean’s named Alan “The Boy Who Changed Everything,” and TIME magazine called his picture “The Most Heartbreaking Photo of 2015.”

Despite the labels, Alan’s death didn’t change everything.

The Syria crisis is as bad as ever, with the United Nations deeming it the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.

Thirteen and a half million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance, four out of five Syrians now live in poverty, and life expectancy among Syrians has lowered by more than 20 years since the beginning of the crisis, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

In August, another photo surfaced from the Syria crisis. The photo is of a bloodied and horror-stricken five-year-old boy whose home was bombed in Aleppo, Syria.

Again, the photo was circulated on social media without much action.

This needs to stop. We cannot become accustomed to pictures of dying children.

As young people, we have to be aware of global issues and steer conversations toward them. One day, we may be the decision-makers of our country, and we can’t ignore humanitarian crises because they’ve been going on for years.  

Find out how your government is responding to humanitarian crises, and start advocating if you think it should do more. Volunteer with a local organization that knows how to help those in need. At the very minimum, educate yourself, and know that even if your social media feed isn’t covered in photos of dying children, children are still dying.

If we talk about these issues and keep them in the forefront of our minds, then maybe we won’t need a photo of a dead child from each crisis to spur action.

Or, at the very least, maybe we’ll only need one.


Shaylyn McMahon is an aspiring communications professional, an avid coffee drinker and a wannabe world explorer.

She’d rather be cuddling her cat at any given moment, and if you can’t see her, you can probably hear her laugh.

Follow her on Twitter @ShaylynMcMahon.