During the month of November 2013, I was in Turkey near the Syrian border. I went with a group of 18 friends who formed a nonprofit organization 25 years ago, organizing to bring aid to people in great need. They have been to many countries, and this was my first trip with them.
This type of charitable endeavor fulfills a lifelong dream of mine and I want to share the impact of my experience.
Six Syrian refugee schools have been set up during the last year in the city of Iskenderun, 25 miles from the Syrian border and 75 miles away from the intense fighting in Aleppo. The newest and largest has more than 850 students and opened in an industrial area using donated cargo containers as classrooms. The schools are privately funded by the Syrian refugees, using their own savings and gathering donations to take in the growing number of children.
Our main objective was to instill the feeling of hope that other people in the world know what is happening to them and care. We performed puppet shows, which brought roars of laughter and excitement from the children at each school. They were absolutely delighted, and so were we. We went into the classes and taught English and art. We bought and passed out school supplies. We also bought food staples and toys for a number of the neediest families. I was amazed at how the Turkish people have accepted the burden of hundreds of thousands of refugees with such generosity, graciousness and compassion. The manager of the local supermarket, for example, went out of his way to have large quantities of food delivered to his store for us to pick up, at cost, when he heard who the food was intended for. The Syrians were warm and welcoming, despite the enormity of the suffering they’ve endured. They were astonished and grateful that people had come so far to help them.
Like most of us, it didn’t occur to me that I was capable of helping in such an overwhelming crisis. I had been hearing about and ignoring the Syrian refugee crisis for over two years, not realizing that I could make a difference. Even with a small group of people, we were able to have a significant impact on a number of lives. The Syrians we met now know that there are people who care about what is happening to them, that they are not alone.
My greatest wish for the Syrian refugees is for that hope to stay alive, which will help them recover from the trauma they have suffered, and for all of us to know that a little from each of us adds up to a lot. We can provide aid and inspire hope.
For more information on the nonprofit organization I went to Turkey with, the Center for Cultural and Naturalist Studies, email project manager Johor McWeeney at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-559-3237.
Tiana Yvonne Ingram lives in North San Juan.