Image 1 of 17: Billionaire Saudi Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal took time out of his overly-busy schedule to stop by Jordan’s Zaatari camp to see firsthand the fruits of his donations totaling $2.4 million since 2012. Although he’s doing more than his bit to help with the crisis, he said the international community must work to end the conflict in Syria.
Image 1 of 17: Hollywood superstar & refugee activist extraordinaire Angelina Jolie visited Zaatari camp several times over the years with UNHCR. Jordanians & Syrians are lucky to have this humanitarian hero on their side - simply dressed, she still looks stunning - making headline news and demonstrating the publicity punch of celebrity appearances.
Image 1 of 17: Hollywood A-Lister Orlando Bloom took time out from his day job to visit Syrian refugees in Jordan last month. The hunky actor, who usually plays the “good guy” on-screen, is just as kind-hearted off-screen. He highlighted the importance of education & a normal life for children of the camp. He’s been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2009.
Image 1 of 17: Don’t be fooled by her young age and small frame, as Nobel Peace Prize nominee Malala Yousafzai has mature ideas and a large activist spirit. The teenage education advocate visited Jordan’s Zaatari camp in 2014 to promote better and more accessible education for Syrian children.
Image 1 of 17: Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery spoke of the traumatic conditions she witnessed when she visited Zaatari. Dockery, who plays Lady Mary Crawley in the ITV period drama, observed that, "the refugees had come from a life not dissimilar to ours - with jobs, homes and families - but the war had robbed them of the life they knew and loved.”
Image 1 of 17: British singer Sami Yusuf has used his voice once again to help the vulnerable. In 2013, he sang along with refugees in Jordan’s Zaatari camp, giving them much-needed words of hope. He told families, “I don’t want you to lose faith that you will go back home; stay strong and take care of your children because this is the future of Syria.”
Image 1 of 17: Tunisian actress Hind Sabri may have the looks of the girl-next-door, but she’s one tough cookie who’s visited displaced Syrian families in East Beirut and Jordan’s Zaatari camp to show them her full support. She says the camps are where she said she learned to “count her blessings and not take everything for granted.”
Image 1 of 17: Syrian actor Nawar Boulboul arrived at Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan with a plan for helping kids who've missed years of school: put on a play. He adapted Shakespearean plays for children and with almost no outside support, is teaching 75 kids in the region's biggest Syrian refugee camp to act.
Image 1 of 17: Syrian actor Abed Fahed ditched a day of glitz and glamour to pitch in at Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp in 2012. Fahed wants greater efforts to be made to keep Zaatari’s younger residents entertained. Following his visit, the star is publicly supporting the creation of a cultural and sports center within the camp.
Image 1 of 17: While filming on location in Jordan, Oxfam Global Ambassador & actor Gael García Bernal met with Syrian refugees living near the capital Amman. He said, “aid is essential. There’s not enough, despite the promises from the international community. The people I met want peace-they want to return to their home country to rebuild their future.”
Image 1 of 17: American comedian and TV Host Jon Stewart may be all about the funny, but he showed his more serious side on his visit to Jordan’s Zaatari camp. Stewart was in the kingdom directing his new film, Rosewater, but took time out to tour the compound and talk privately to occupants.
Image 1 of 17: Arsenal footballer Martin Keown visited Zaatari to do some football coaching on a new pitch built by Save the Children. He described it as a “very powerful experience, meeting these kids who have come from the battleground to the playground”, adding, “the strength and resilience that they show, having been through so much, is an inspiration.
Image 1 of 17: Moroccan King King Mohammed VI became the first Arab head of state to visit the Zaatari camp in northern Jordan when he toured a field hospital treating Syrian refugees. Occupants chanted “Long live Morocco,” as they greeted the king, who shook hands with some of them before ending his 20-minute tour.
Image 1 of 17: Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visited King Abdullah Park Camp in Jordan which houses 1,000 Syrian refugees, more than half of whom are children.As they picked their way through the dust and rubble, the shock on their faces was evident. Charles bluntly asked one resident, “Do you see any end to this horror?”
Image 1 of 17: Crown Princess Mary of Denmark visited Zaatari camp accompanied by reps from the World Food Program (WFP). She learned about the WFP voucher program which enables camp occupants to buy their own food at local shops, bridging both assistance to Syrians and support to the local Jordanian market economy.
Image 1 of 17: British writer, comedian, and UNICEF ambassador Eddie Izzard traveled to Iraq’s Domiz camp for Syrian refugees to encourage fundraising for UNICEF programs to deliver clean water, education and psychological support for displaced children. Originally designed for 15,000 people, the camp now houses over 50,000. Not much to laugh about.
Image 1 of 17: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Zaatari, Jordan's Syrian refugee "city", and got an earful from six refugees who vented their frustration at the international community’s failure to end Syria’s civil war. “Where is the international community? What are you waiting for?” a Syrian woman, who did not give her name, told him.
There’s a conga-line of celebrities parading through Syrian refugee camps - an incongruous mash-up of glamour with grit that has us debating the end results. Do celebrities trivialize good causes? Worse yet - do they jeopardize them? Or should we lighten up and see this as a brilliant way to keep critical causes in the public awareness?
The Syrian civil war may be the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time, with an estimated 9 million Syrians displaced from their homes since 2011. It’s logical that refugee settlements in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan attract high profile visitors such as UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
But what to make of the virtual red carpets that have been luring in A-list entertainers and athletes?
Morally speaking, we shouldn’t need celebrity endorsement to back a decent cause; a love of humanity should suffice to get us to step up, but face it - it’s difficult to incite us to care for people we’ll likely never meet.
So tag a cause with an exciting spokesmodel - and WHAM! - it’s news. A serious issue becomes sexier, edgier, and well, more VIP, capturing headlines, air time, and social media buzz. It’s undeniable that star power draws public attention. We can’t say what motivates these celebs to get involved, but their presence does help people in dire need by keeping issues on the table.
Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children told Forbes magazine, “In my experience, the benefits of celebrity are not fabled but real. Without the campaigning energies of Bono and Bob Geldof, as example, I don’t believe 46 million more children would be in school today in the world’s poorest countries.”
But while support by an enthusiastic celebrity can help broadcast a cause to new audiences, the star-touch isn’t enough. Every charity needs a clear, convincing message about what it’s trying to achieve. Stars can turn the public’s head, but charities need to follow through with a tightly structured organization to translate that attention into muscular fundraising and political support.
And the “elephant in the living room” is the risk that the celebrity becomes bigger than the message.
For that we go back to Bono, who - according to urban legend - hushed a Scottish concert crowd and started clapping his hands, once every second. After 10 seconds he dramatically declared, "Every time I clap, a child dies in Africa." A thick scottish accent yelled back from the crowd "Then stop yer bloody clappin'."
Do you think it's appropriate for celebrities to visit refugee camps on behalf of charities? Does it attract more attention to the suffering of refugees or to the stars themselves? Share your comments below!