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Support for families in the Middle East shouldn't waver

September 14, 2012

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Like most people, I've been shocked and saddened by recent news from the Middle East and North Africa. An American ambassador killed in Libya. Rioters tearing up U.S. flags in Cairo. Anti-Western protests in Sudan, Yemen, Malaysia and elsewhere.

Naturally, events like these lead the international community to ask important questions about our role in the region. The world is still a dangerous place, and we should be mindful of the limits of what we can do. But we should not allow the abhorrent actions of a few to justify turning our backs on families in need of our help.

From Iraq to Syria to Yemen, hundreds of thousands of people across the Middle East are struggling simply to stay alive amid the conflict and chaos. For them and others, the struggle is also for long-overdue political change that should free them from poverty and oppression and lead to a better, safer world for all of us.

I mourn the loss of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, whom I had the privilege of meeting last year at his compound in Benghazi. He represented the best of diplomacy: pragmatic but hopeful, mindful of risks but also deeply courageous.

His efforts to help Libyans build a better country should inspire us now, because those who attacked Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues are not representative of the Libyan people. Those who protest and attack symbols of the West are not representative of the vast majority of people in the Middle East working peacefully to improve their lives.

At Mercy Corps, one of our primary roles is to meet urgent humanitarian needs in times of crisis. That's why we're working with Syrian refugees in tent camps in Jordan and Lebanon; building safe spaces for children in Yemen; and offering critical aid to Libyan families still displaced after last year's revolution.

But an equally important role for us is to help avoid future crises by laying the groundwork for more secure, more just and more productive societies. Nowhere is this work more timely and critical than the Middle East and North Africa.

In Yemen, we've organized youth groups to perform community service work such as volunteering at children's hospitals and cleaning up neighborhoods. In Libya, we opened a resource center to support local relief agencies and nascent community groups. And in Iraq, we've convened and trained women's groups on how to organize and advocate for their rights.

This important work flows directly from our mission to alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities. But it also has another benefit: it makes us all safer.

I won't soon forget this week's events. Ambassador Stevens' death was a tragedy that we should condemn in the harshest terms. Violent protests should not be tolerated. But we can't let the actions of a few blind us to the needs and the aspirations of the many striving for peaceful change.

Families across the Middle East want the same things for their children as we do: a safe community, a good education, and the promise of a better future. These are ideals worthy of our unwavering support.