My dear friends, a remarkable family of Syrians that I met in Turkey, have received an incredible opportunity for a private sponsorship to go to Canada. Please read to find out more about them and how you can help. Donation links are at the bottom of the post.
I knew I wanted to be friends with Hasan from the moment I met him.
I was sitting on the floor of a crowded living room at a volunteer meeting. It was my first time, and I admit I was nervous. I didn’t really know how I could possibly help with the refugee crisis, something that seemed to me like a huge, overwhelming problem. Yet, here I was, in a room of multicultural volunteers, about to find out.
A few chairs away from me was a thin young man with a shock of thick black hair and glasses. He radiated a calm, easy presence. The meeting began, and everyone in the room introduced themselves and said where they were from.
“I’m Hasan. I’m from Syria.”
Longtime readers and those that know me personally are familiar with the eight months I spent in Turkey, teaching English but also volunteering with REVI, the Refugee Volunteers of Izmir, a grassroots organization that helps the Syrian refugees living in the city. Over time, REVI became not just the group I donated my free time too, but my friends, community, and support system during my life in Turkey. Now, I have the chance to give back to some of the most pivotal members of that community, my dear friend Hasan and five of his siblings who have been living in Izmir and working alongside the REVI volunteers.
Hasan and his siblings were lucky to be able to escape from Syria and try to build a new life in Turkey, but the situation in Turkey for refugees is pretty grim. They are a cosmopolitan, intelligent family from Aleppo – all 6 of whom have managed to become fluent in both Turkish and English in the last few years – but to get a work permit or to continue studies as a refugee in Turkey is practically impossible. The only option for many is to get illegal jobs where employers take advantage of the horrible predicament people are in and do shady practices such as withholding wages, which happened to Hasan’s sisters shortly after I met them.
Nevertheless, they have done what they could. No, they’ve gone above and beyond what would be expected of someone in their situation, by giving back to the community of refugees in Izmir who are in worse conditions than they. Most of my time volunteering was spent with a member of this remarkable family at my side. Hasan in particular has spent countless hours working not only with REVI but with MedVint, a medical aid group, translating and delivering medicine and aid to Syrians living in wretched conditions in illegal camps outside of Izmir. As one volunteer put it, “There are many people who owe Hasan their health, their sight, or even their lives”.
On the night of the Turkish political coup in July 2016, I happened to be home alone. I was scared and confused. Martial law had been put into place, I didn’t know what was going on or what to do. I’m a white, middle-class girl from California. This kind of situation was completely new for me.
At a friend’s insistence, I left the house, and went to Hasan’s place. Hasan threw open the door, a wide grin on his face.
“Mo, you’re a refugee now!” He always did have a sense of humor.
I was welcomed into the kitchen, and although it was late Hasan insisted on making me some cheese, a special Syrian recipe that he fried in olive oil and served alongside sweet, strong hot tea. The proper way to eat it, he instructed me, was to put everything in your mouth at once: a bite of cheese followed by a swig of tea. With the rush of hot liquid, the hard, slightly rubbery consistency of the cheese gives way, and the salty and sweet swirl together in a way that is comforting. Syrian food is highly representative of the people themselves: passionate, giving, generous. My fear began to subside.
Hasan lit a cigarette, inhaled, and slowly exhaled a cloud of smoke. In another room, we could hear the TV, or perhaps someone was watching a news report on a smartphone. His smile faded.
“In Syria, we watched on the news as these kinds of things happened,” he said, his voice growing serious. “First in Egypt, then Libya, then on and on until it came to us.”
It suddenly struck me how trivial my concerns were, how selfish I was being, what terrible things Hasan and his family have been through and the perfectly justified fear that they were surely feeling this night. If things got bad here in Turkey, I could leave. But them. . .
To Hasan of course, none of that mattered. What mattered was that I was his friend, a person who needed his help, and he could help me, so he would. That’s what he always does: find the people that need his help the most, no matter what he himself has been through, and help them as best as he can.
About a year ago, friends of REVI started the process of a private sponsorship for the siblings to come to Toronto, Canada, and they have been accepted! It has been a long and emotional process, as the private sponsors had to then find and convince an approved charity to take on their case, which is the only way to do it these days.
However, a private sponsorship in Canada requires a LOT of money. For the six of them to live for one year without government assistance, we need to raise $73,000 CAD by March (as of writing $9,000 CAD have been raised).
Believe me, no one deserves this more than them. Living in Turkey has meant putting their lives on hold. They deserve to go back to school, find jobs, travel, rebuild their lives. They have waited long enough.
Please help me to help them build new lives in Canada.
There are nine separate funds to choose from. Select option #5, Toronto Multi-Faith Refugee Effort (TMRE). Also, please let me know the donation amount by private message, as REVI is trying to track our progress towards our fundraising goal.
With love and in solidarity,