This is an imaginative vision that SAP team members drafted shortly after our return from eastern Turkey, where we interacted with Syrian activists and refugees, heard their stories, and saw the devastating consequences of the Syrian Civil War firsthand. This is the vision we are ultimately driving towards.

Syria Airlift Project

Envision hundreds of Syrians in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, coming together in a project that fills their lives with purpose and meaning: feeding their starving countrymen. For months they have been idle, unable to work, bored and restless. Now they are gainfully employed, assembling a fleet of aircraft that will slip food and medicine past hostile forces and directly into the hands of besieged innocents.

The aircraft are inexpensive, less than $1000 apiece. The essential components arrive in kits from abroad: batteries, motors and propellers, servos, and control electronics. The airframes are built from inexpensive materials available in any hardware stores. They are easy to construct; once trained by visiting instructors, a four-man team can build ten a day. They have precisely one purpose: to fly small quantities of cargo to preprogrammed GPS coordinates. Because they are small and quiet and fly at night, hostile actors cannot track them. Some aircraft inevitably are shot down or crash, but most get through. Because there are hundreds of them, no one aircraft is that important.

ParcelEach night, food and medicine rain down from the skies on besieged innocents. Parcels are labeled with both national and corporate sponsors, but more importantly with symbols and language embodying a positive vision of Syria’s future. This effort is not merely about feeding innocents; it is about a massive, shared effort to draw Syrians of all ethnicities, religions, and political views together in a dignified, meaningful, life-giving project.

During India’s struggle for independence, Gandhi set thousands of his countrymen to work making home-spun cloth and harvesting salt. The project chipped at the foundations of British imperialism, but also provided dignified work and a basis for solidarity for the Indian people. In the same way, this project chips away at the legitimacy of those who use starvation and medical deprivation as tactics, and the airlift itself becomes a means of expressing a common Syrian identity.

Airdropped candyIn schools throughout Syrian refugee camps, children color pictures imagining what the future Syria will be. As educational and psychological care NGOs guide traumatized children through their own healing process, the children envision hopeful futures in which Alawites, Sunnis, Christians, Druze, and others live together in harmony. These artistic creations are delivered to the aircraft assembly teams, who pack them in with food and medicine. The message to besieged Syrians is clear: in this complex and fragmented war, there is a side worth supporting. A side premised on moral legitimacy and concern for human rights. A side in which there is room for all ethnicities and religions. The project also creates room for functional cooperation among Syria’s many political and military actors, contributing to political reconciliation.

Just as the Berlin Airlift of 1948 was a symbol of hope and an act of defiance against Soviet aggression, the Syria Airlift Project defies those who use starvation and medical deprivation as weapons. By tapping into the magic of airplanes, it fires imaginations and offers Syrians a glimpse of hope beyond the darkness of war.