Students travel to refugee camps

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With over one million Syrians having requested asylum in Europe, there is no question that the Syrian Refugee crisis poses one of the greatest geo political challenges the world has ever faced. From Greece to Germany, these refugees have traveled thousands of miles to seek safety from the current situation in Syria.

Earlier this year, three students ,Ayse Yucesan (’18), Rayan Ghandour (’18) and Celine Sawiris (’18), began reaching out to several refugee organizations throughout London. The students contacted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), helping them plan a trip to Jordan and Greece, partnering with them to raise awareness.

In order to assist in the global crisis, the students made a trip during Thanksgiving break to Syrian refugee camps. The students travelled to Amman, Jordan, where they stayed for two days, and then continued onto Athens, Greece where they visited a refugee camp and also settlements within the city.

Having left Egypt in 2011 after the revolution, Sawiris is grateful of the privilege in her life today. As a result of her background, she wanted more hands-on exposure to the crisis. “ I just wanted to be able to relate to them on a personal level,” Sawiris said.

Similarly, Ghandour lived in Lebanon for 14 years and being half Syrian,  feels a cultural tie to the crisis that has devastated millions. While the war in Syria started in 2011, political turmoil in the country had been present for many years prior. While living in Lebanon, Ghandour grew involved in helping refugees, but he felt his involvement begin to diminish after moving away from is home. “When I moved to London I felt that my connection was lost, but I still wanted to do something, which is why I became involved in our charity,” he said.

Before leaving for the trip, Yucesan was expecting a “sense of hopelessness, anguish and sorrow.” However Yucesan was shocked to realize that her experience contrasted many of her expectations. “The refugee families that we met and the people that we interacted with were so full of hope and so joyful that it was crazy for us to see,” Yucesan said.

Ghandour observed thousands of refugees attempt to recreate their hometown. “Its is pretty devastating, there is no electricity or heat, but it’s heartwarming to see them try to mimic their lives in Syria,” he said.

During their time in Athens, Ghandour connected with a boy, named Sammit, who lives in an orphanage. “It started off as an emotional talk about what happened in Syria, but then it truly became a talk between two 17-year-olds,” he said. Ghandour continues to communicate with him today.

In attempt to relate to children in the camps on a more intimate level, Sawiris interacted with many teens her age. However, she found one conversation to be particularly meaningful. Sawiris was told by a young Syrian girl that the absence of electricity is what she was missing most in life. Sawiris believes that at ASL, “everything we have, we take for granted.”

Reflecting on her own experience, one interaction still resonates in Yucesan’s mind. When speaking with a refugee father, Yucesan asked him what hopes he had for his children. He said that he hopes they will attain an educated and achieve their dreams so that maybe one day they can go back to Syria.

Yucesan realized that this father has the same hopes and aspirations for his children as many parents in her community, a dream that all fathers have for their children.

Yucesan, Ghandour and Sawiris will continue raising awareness through the implementation of their organization, Teens with Refugees. “Essentially what we are hoping to do is to not only raise financial aid for the camps that we visited, but also raise awareness among our age group, among teenagers and students for the crisis and find ways to work with the UN for teenagers to get physically and actively involved,” Yucesan said.

The group will be present at ASL’s annual auction where they hope to raise money through selling a piece of artwork created by a refugee they met during their trip. “Spreading awareness is a big part of [our organization] however, like any charity, raising money is one of our primary goals,” Ghandour said.

Ghandour believes that it is important to note that there are no age requirements for aiding the Syrian crisis. He hopes the group can “show people there is no age limit, and that they can help out in any way they can, no matter how young they are.”

Because he youth are a crucial part of this project, Yucesan, Ghandour and Sawiris are focusing on high school students. Ghandour believes that many adolescents can relate to this topic. “We believe the changes that the youth start making now, could be the changes that cause long term benefits for this crisis,”Ghandour said.

Written by Culture Editor Olivia Abrams and News Editor Cameron Campili.