A couple months ago, the world was moved by a photograph of a young lifeless Syrian child washed up on a Turkish beach.
The death of this boy, Alan Kurdi, was just one out of thousands of stories of Syrian children who have been killed in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Millions of Syrian children have forgotten what it is like to be a child, to go to school, to look forward to the future with hope. Karam Foundation helps remind these kids — and the world — that Syrian refugee children are #NotInvisible. Through a variety of education programs and direct assistance to families in dire need, Karam restores hope to the world’s most vulnerable.
Since 2012, I have been donating to Karam Foundation (a Chicago-based nonprofit), which helped over 322,000 Syrians and 72,000 children in 2014 alone.
But two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to see firsthand the difference that Karam makes, by volunteering on one of the organization’s Innovative Education missions in southern Turkey, just a few miles from the Syrian border at the Ruwwad Syrian Refugee School. 40 volunteer mentors and experts from around the world joined, among them dentists, doctors, psycho-social workers, artists, journalists, and even a culinary arts mentor!
These children have seen the worst of this world. Many of them had been rescued from their homes after they were bombed by Syrian government barrel bombs. Some of them had recently fled the horrors of ISIS. Many had lost fathers, mothers, or brothers and sisters. All of them had lost their homes. Despite the ugliness they have witnessed, they yearned to learn, to play, and to smile. They were just as innocent and enthusiastic as any child I have ever met, yet the trauma of the Syrian war was impossible to ignore.
My co-mentor and I prepared a week-long Student Council workshop for the high-school students to give them an experience in democracy, a concept they had only heard about while growing up under a dictatorship. At first we sensed cynicism from the kids as we discussed basic tenets of democracy and encouraged students to nominate themselves for office, but as they started to design campaign posters and work on their speeches, we noticed how invested they became in the process. By the last day, the excitement filled every classroom as the students debated and held elections. A brilliant young woman, Wafa, from the 12th grade became the first President of the Ruwwad Student Council.
During this time, other mentors taught the school’s 750 children cooking, journalism, filmmaking, self-defense, computer programming, and philosophy. They were examined by dentists and eye doctors, many for the first time in their lives. They painted the grim halls of their school with colorful flowers, instructed by a muralist from South Africa. By our last day of the mission, the school and the students had been transformed, and so had each of the volunteers who had travelled with us.
As Syrian refugees are rejected and shunned in many countries, with politicians equating refugees with the terrorism they fled, Karam seeks to empower refugees instead. Karam has chosen to invest in Syria’s youth. Karam gives them the tools of mentorship and innovative education so these kids become global citizens equipped to succeed and create opportunities to build a better future for themselves, their communities, and their country.
This Giving Tuesday, I hope people around the world will choose to support Syrian refugees who have suffered unimaginable loss but still believe in building a hopeful future. Karam Foundation changes lives every single day. I witnessed for myself how lives can be transformed, and futures built, when dedicated individuals put humanity above everything else.
That’s what inspires me to give.
By: Kenan Rahmani, Students Organize for Syria Policy Coordinator
** This essay was the 1st place winning entry on 92nd Street Y and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation #GivingTuesday contest and was published on Upworthy. $5,000 was donated by the Gates Foundatioin to Karam Foundation because of this winning entry.**