Sadly, hardly a day goes by when there is not a story about the plight of refugees trying to escape the horrors of conflict in some part of the world. The stories of desperation and fear will tear at your heart, making you want to find some way to help.
Because of my family history and my own personal experiences, there are two subjects that will immediately grab my attention when I hear about them — the plight of refugees and lack of access to education.
As a child, I still remember very clearly my family members telling us of the hopelessness and fear that comes when you are forced, with little warning, to abandon your long-time home because of political turmoil. And as I have written many times, I also know that I would not be where I am today if not for the caring teachers and support I received when my family moved to the United States and I was trying to learn a new language and culture.
The school, near Turkey’s busiest border crossing with Syria, provides educational opportunities for almost 2,000 Syrian refugee children. The school was created by a Syrian-Canadian pharmacist who still runs the school with fellow Syrian-Canadian volunteers.
The plight of refugees—especially Syrian refugees—has reached epic proportions and is one that should concern us all. According to UNICEF, approximately 2.7 million Syrian children do not have access to schools, either in Syria or in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan to which they have fled.
One of the aspects of the Al Salam School that especially caught my attention is the fact that almost all of the teachers and staff members are also Syrian refugees. That means that not only is the school helping refugee children, but it’s also providing gainful employment to adult refugees.
The work that the team at the Syrian Kids Foundation is doing is critical in providing hope to thousands of children who currently find themselves in hopeless situations. That’s why I did not hesitate to contact them as soon as I heard the news story and offer the support of the Tariq Farid Foundation.
Following are a few photos of the terrific work the organization is doing. To learn more about the Syrian Kids Foundation and how you can show your support, I encourage you to visit syriankids.ca.
I recently had an opportunity to meet a few of the many refugees being helped by Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven.
As someone who moved to the United States as a child, I know that making the transition to a new country can be very challenging. Thankfully, we had neighbors, teachers and others within the community who made us feel welcome and helped us learn the new customs, the language and other things we needed to know to become comfortable in our new home.
I know that not everyone who comes to this country is fortunate enough to have such a support group, however. And that is especially true of those who are refugees.
IRIS Executive Director Chris George and his team do a tremendous job each year of helping hundreds of refugees rebuild their lives in Connecticut.
In operation since 1982, IRIS assists as many as 500 men, women and children each year, including about 230 new arrivals. Most of the recent refugees have come from Iraq, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Sudan and Colombia.
IRIS welcomes every refugee family to New Haven with a furnished and equipped apartment. In addition, Chris and his team provide English classes for adults, help enroll their kids in school, connect them to health care and help them find jobs. They also provide immigration legal services to help them reunite with family members left behind.
“We don’t have enough money to help them for very long,” Chris told me. “Our job is to help refugees get off to a good start.”
The federal government gives refugee agencies such as IRIS some funding, but Chris says that it is not enough, especially in a relatively expensive state like Connecticut.
As a result, the organization depends heavily on outside support.
“Without additional private funds – like the grant from the Tariq Farid Foundation – we would have to close down,” Chris told me.
There is another reason that support of IRIS is so close to my heart. My grandmother was a refugee and I know the struggles she and her family faced when forced to leave their home.
Now I am blessed to have an opportunity to help others in similar situations and I hope that others will join me in showing their support as well.