Public Policy Student Works In Syrian Refugee Camp
In a month of volunteer work with Syrian refugees, public policy major Aladdin Kanawati saw streets filled with sick, malnourished children who had fled the civil war in their homeland.
He heard their heartrending stories about seeing neighbors and relatives killed in the fighting. He hugged children who’d lost limbs and learned that many had been raped.
That month left Kanawati determined to return to the Middle East to resume his work with refugees, and to take as many fellow students with him as he can.
“There is a desperate need for humanitarian work there,” said Kanawati, a junior who grew up in suburban Atlanta’s East Cobb community. “They believe the whole international community has abandoned them.”
Kanawati got his first-hand look at the victims of war last summer. He worked with refugees from Syria who were living in Amman, Jordan, and visited Jordan’s sprawling Zaatari refugee camp.
His trip was arranged by the Syrian American Medical Society. The organization’s goal was to provide as much medical, psychological and humanitarian aid as possible.
“There are people with terrible allergies, with pus and blood coming out of their ears,” Kanawati said. “Many of these people need medicine, but they don’t have the money. Ten dollars could go to the doctor, or it could buy a month of food.”
In additional to medical aid, Kanawati and the workers offered therapy to those who had survived trauma.
“We talked to kids who had witnessed their parents being murdered,” he said. “One saw his grocer being stabbed. One 14-year-old boy had his mouth and nose taped shut to suffocate him, and then his body was dumped on his uncle’s doorstep. His 12-year-old cousin found him.
Kanawati learned many of the refugees, even the younger ones, had been raped. When he visited a class of eight- and nine-year old children, a third of them said they had been sexually abused.
The refugees have escaped from the violence in Syria, but many now face the crowded, unsanitary conditions of the refugee camp. With more than 100,000 refugees, the Zaatari camp is essentially one of the most populous cities in Jordan, but without the infrastructure of a true city.
“There are miles and miles of tents,” Kanawati said.
That influx has put a considerable strain on Jordan’s economy, and Kanawati fears Jordan’s hospitality may run out.
“I spoke with a congressman,” said Kanawati. “He said, ‘We want them out.’”
Many of the Syrians are poor, and Kanawati found the refugees are starting to get desperate.
“I saw children rummaging through the trash to support their families,” he said. “When you see your family starving, you do everything you can to feed them. There’s going to be a breaking point when the refugees can no longer get money for food.”
With children scavenging to survive, there’s no time or money left for school. If the trend continues, Kanawati predicts that by the war’s end Syria could be left with an entire generation of uneducated children.
Since his return to the Georgia State campus, Kanawati has decided to take more classes that focus on how nonprofit organizations work, and he has decided to pursue a double concentration in nonprofit leadership and governance. He has also been organizing a trip back to the camp for student volunteers willing to join him over the winter break.
His goal is to take at least 10 students over the break, and more in the future.
“We’re seeking anyone to go,” he said. “Yes, we need doctors and journalists, but many of the people there just need someone to talk to. Just being able to tell their story, to know someone cares…it makes a huge difference. We’re seeking anyone who will listen.”
Anyone interested in joining Kanawati can contact him for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.