American Volunteers Refuse to Abandon Syria's Children
By Keir Simmons and Yuka Tachibana
Lina Sergie Attar cries as she says goodbye to the Syrian refugee children of Al Salam school in Reyhanli, Turkey. A second-generation Syrian-American from Illinois, she has made deep connections in the short time she has been here.
"I try and hide the tears from them but it is very difficult," she said. "We try to tell them 'Stay positive, being a Syrian refugee is not going to limit your possibilities in the world.' But in our hearts we know the truth, and we know the conflict we're in the middle of.
"When you leave, you can't help but remember where you're leaving. And we're going back to our lives in America. It's hard to keep a smile when we're saying goodbye. Inside, our hearts are breaking."
Sergie Attar, 40, a mother of two and a writer and architect, and painter Kinda Hibrawi, 36, helped launch Karam Foundation, a U.S. charity to aid Syrians in need, especially children. "Our job is to try to bring as much hope as possible," Hibrawi said. The pair now run the charity full-time.
They have raised enough money to pay for a new computer lab for Al Salam school, with 22 computers.
Sergie Attar says computers need to play a key part in the education for these refugee children because "they need to understand that the world is much bigger than they know and that they can connect with people and they can learn new skills and learn technology that the whole world is connected to."
In November, the women brought 22 volunteers to the school for a mentoring program. The students in grades 10-12 are taught everything from computer lessons and chess to lectures on how to become entrepreneurs. The youngsters at the school include many girls.
"We were surprised that a lot of these girls wanted to be lawyers and doctors and mathematicians, archeologists, all these fantastic things," said Hibrawi. "So we decided if there is a way we can bring other leaders to influence them, inspire them and give them these skills, then maybe it can happen for them."
This is their third visit to the school.
"When we're in the States and planning the program, at times we are so overwhelmed by the magnitude of the numbers of kids," Sergie Attar said. "The numbers of refugees, the numbers of displaced. But when you come, to be honest, we forget the outside world."
Sergie Attar, the trained architect, said one child refused to draw his future home in Syria during an exercise last year. "This specific child couldn't do the exercise. He said 'I don't have a future, I won't draw my home in the future. I just want to grow up really fast and die.
"Yesterday I saw him one year later, he ran up to me, he hugged me. He said 'I remember you.'" Sergie Attar said this time, he drew his future home. "For the first time, it's not actually another home. He drew his home."
"It's important they don't feel abandoned," Hibrawi said. "Creating those bonds, creating those relationships, making them feel like we are returning. That's really key to the work we do."
For more information go to karamfoundation.org