By Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO at littleBits
Over the past few weeks I have been watching the news unfold on the border when it comes to the zero tolerance policy; I can no longer be silent. Despite talk of a new executive order to keep families together, the reality remains: this went on for weeks and thousands of kids got caught in the crossfire. It’s a moment to pause.
We at littleBits strive to separate politics from our work. But when something touches human rights, it is no longer about politics. It becomes about justice. There is nothing I can think of that is worse than separating young kids from their families and traumatizing them for life. Working at a company built on a mission to empower and delight kids, we are especially attentive to what makes kids happy and confident and sets them up for a lifetime of success -- regardless of gender, ethnicity, or interests.
The “zero tolerance” immigration policy is antithetical to all of this.
I know firsthand the strife of being a refugee. In 1982, my family fled my home country of Lebanon because they feared for our lives during the Lebanese-Israel war; we were welcomed in Canada with open arms. In 1989, a civil war broke out and my parents fled violence again to Canada, where we were again welcomed and allowed to live with dignity and respect. In 2006, a war broke out between Israel and Lebanon; my sister and I separated from my mom and other sisters to flee to Jordan, then the United Kingdom, then the United States.
I was 24-years-old, I was fully aware of what was going on, I spoke fluent English, and I had means to buy flights and hire a lawyer. Yet it was still a massively traumatizing experience. I cried for weeks afterwards and I remember every second vividly. The kids we are talking about today do not have any of the resources I had, and they will be scarred for life.
I am also well aware of the strain that a refugee population puts on a host country. Over the past seven years, Lebanon has welcomed over 1.5 million refugees fleeing the war in Syria, the most of any country in the world. Lebanon’s whole population is 4 million people. The strain on this small country -- its infrastructure, its economy, its environment -- has been massive. But when it’s the human thing to do, nothing else matters.
Furthermore, this hits the littleBits team even more deeply because we are a company built by immigrants. I am a first-generation Lebanese immigrant and our team is comprised almost 20 percent of individuals from different countries, languages, and backgrounds. Many of us came to America to make our lives better and to contribute to a better society, so we're committed to inventing the world we want to live in.
History will judge us if we sit still and allow this to happen. Our kids will not forgive us if we don’t stand up for them. Our conscience will not rest if we allow something so basically human to appear partisan. We must speak out.
At littleBits, we are donating 20 percent of our direct sales this week to the American Civil Liberties Union to help provide legal and social support to migrant kids. I will be personally matching a portion of the total donation, and any of our team members are welcome to donate any amount big or small to help further the ACLU’s efforts.
I invite others to join me.
Especially, I invite tech CEOs and leaders to put their weight behind this effort. We have outsized influence on society and our elected officials, and we must match it with outsized empathy.
Yours in empathy,
Founder, CEO, littleBits
P.S. If you, like us, are concerned and want to act, there are several things you can do right now:
- Call your congressperson. Everyone’s voice matters in a democracy. Let yours be heard. Here’s how.
- Vote. Please. Speaking of democracy, as someone who can't vote here in America, I can’t express strongly enough how lucky you are to have this right. Your 2018 primary election may be coming up -- check it out.
- Donate to organizations helping the kids. There's a list here. Any amount is helpful, depending on your means.