BAB AL-SALAMEH BORDER CROSSING, Syria – While backpacking in Europe and Asia, Wijbe Abma was moved by stories of human tragedy in Syria, torn by a civil war that has left people queuing for hours in the cold for basic goods like bread and fuel.
He is only one person, yet Abma decided he needed to do what he could to help the millions of Syrians displaced by nearly two years of fighting between government forces and rebels trying to topple President Bashar Assad's regime. More than 60,000 people have been killed.
The 21-year-old Dutch student has raised more than $17,000 to buy warm blankets for the refugees, delivering the aid through local activists and rebel groups. Earlier this month, he traveled to help distribute them to Syrian families living in temporary camps where the temperature drops below freezing at night.
"They needed blankets and many other things in this camp," Abma said, standing in a make-shift camp that is home to thousands of displaced people near the Bab al-Salameh crossing on Syria's border with Turkey. "So I thought maybe I can buy like a hundred blankets to bring to this camp."
Most international aid allocated for Syria's crisis has gone to the 700,000 people who have sought refuge in neighboring countries.
An emergency U.N. appeal to raise $1.5 billion for Syria exceeded its goal at an international aid conference in Kuwait on Wednesday, though Jordan's king said the refugees his country have taken in have pushed his nation's resources to the brink.
"We are sending a message to Syrians: You are not alone," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, describing Syria as caught in a "death spiral" and calling the conditions for many civilians a "living hell."
International aid groups have found it difficult to deliver aid inside Syria. In government-controlled areas, it must work through agencies linked to the Assad regime and rebel-held areas often lack the means to help distribute aid. At the same time, working anywhere in Syria, subjects aid workers to risk.
"Last time I was in Aleppo, it was pretty continuous shelling," said Abma, Syria's largest city that has been torn apart by months of fighting. "One time (bullets were) very close, with the whistling sound and everything."
Abma, who is doing a bachelor's degree in human geography focusing on international aid and development, bought the first 100 blankets with $800 he earned working as a postman in The Netherlands and tutoring English in South Korea. Now he collects donations though a website, which raised him enough money to buy 500 more blankets to take to Aleppo.