An airstrike hit Aleppo on Wednesday. Yet another day in the five-year war Syria has been suffering. But for the rest of the world, this particular airstrike shook a little harder, as images of a child pulled from the rubble of his own home circulated all media platforms. Five year-old Omran Daqneesh added one more to the 2.8 million displaced children in Syria. As he sat there bewildered, we stared back at our screens, wondering how we can take action. Karam Foundation, who are concerned with Syrian children and youth, does exactly that—and they are appealing for urgent aid right now for Aleppo.
"Our response to situations such as Omran's—where civilians are suffering from heavy bombardment—is to always reach out to local activists and ask what they need and how we can support these communities," Karam's manager of headquarters Roya Naderi told BECAUSE. "We are always in communication with people on the ground inside of Syria, constantly asking them what they need. We call this 'Smart Aid,'" Naderi explained. Karam's smart aid programs strive to develop sustainable, future-building tools.
UNICEF estimates that 8.4 million children—more than 80% of Syria's child population—have been affected by the conflict. Karam's programs target both Syrians stuck within the horrors of war, and those who fled to seek a better life, in order to stabilize families, educate children, and prevent child labor, discourage early teen marriages, as well as keep refugees close to Syria.
Within the borders, Karam extends aid to different age groups, starting with newborns. The #Milk4Syria initiative provides infant formula each month. Boxes of basic food supplies reach hundreds of families every summer, in addition to a sustainable community initiative to provide families with locally grown potatoes and cooking oil. Winter relief for the freezing weather conditions is also part of what Karam does sustainably, installing heating systems in schools across the country.
"We are in touch with the communities we serve, we can ensure that aid reaches those in need," Naderi stated, on being asked how Karam ensures aid reaches areas of conflict such as Aleppo. "Because we are in touch with local NGOs and activists on the ground, we are able to reach these areas. Our constant communication is how we can ensure that aid is delivered to those in need," she said.
The courageous men and women who are rescuing Syrians on ground are not forgotten, and are provided with emergency aid and ambulances.
In host countries, Karam has sparked innovative education programs for Syrian refugee youth. Numbers are at 2.1 million out-of-school children inside Syria and 700,000 Syrian children in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, according to the United Nations. A program that shines brightly after the dark times the children have witnessed, is creative therapy. The program counters traumatic factors through rebuilding bonds between mentor and child, rekindling inspiration and creativity, restoring confidence, and reclaiming the innocence of childhood.
One program, the Karam Leadership Program, is designed for Syrian refugee teenagers in high school. KLP's goal is to provide to create a thriving social environment despite the challenges of growing up in a conflict zone through innovative tools and mentorship.
"Although they are in a more secure environment, they are still in urgent need," Naderi said, explaining that Karam's sponsorship program benefits families they personally met during visits to Turkey, where they travel to twice a year. The Foundation develops a relationship with families and provides them with a monthly stipend on the condition that their children attend school regularly. It also has staff on the ground in Turkey who are able to oversee this program and relay any updates, which allows them to assessing the program's effectiveness.
Since 2011, Karam has made education possible for 8,000 refugees, and 130 mentors have given their efforts to 4,000 others. The educational programs also come with holistic wellness programs.
With many more programs and campaigns at hand, Karam Foundation relies on donations and sponsorship to continue its work, such as the current #childrenofSyria campaign.
Responding to the question of how much donations are needed to cover the war, Naderi said that “this is a difficult question, because our work is twofold; we are providing emergency relief to civilians that are suffering from what feels to be a never ending war -we have had several emergency relief efforts in addition to our ongoing work of supporting refugees. There is no way to predict how much it will take to respond to the immediate needs of those living the war, and there is no way of predicting how much it will take to respond to those who have survived and escaped. There are so many costs to be accounted; food, shelter, clothing, school, and transportation."
Karam makes sure to give quarterly updates to donors that are sponsoring children to ensure that the children are continuing their education and that their family is receiving the aid.
Founded in 2007, Karam (meaning generosity), has impacted thousands of lives, and seems to have a long mission ahead.
Image: Mohamed Ojjeh, courtesy of Karam Foundation