The beautiful snowflakes fell gracefully from the cloudy sky of the magnificent city of Istanbul as I strolled down its grand boulevards last winter. I had just finished the daunting task of distributing thousands of blankets to Syrian orphans and refugees. I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem: more than 2 million Syrians were refugees in Turkey and half of them were children.
Through the generosity of many friends and supporters of GiveLight, we raised enough funds to distribute 13,500 "blankets of love". While it felt good being able to do something tangible for them, a new voice started to whisper in my heart. The blankets will keep them warm at night but do we expect these kids to sleep or work all day and not go to school?
During my short stay in Istanbul I witnessed firsthand the damage and trauma caused by war: young children begging on the streets or selling napkins or working as cheap laborers in factories and restaurants. Most of them were younger than my teenage boys. It hurt just to watch. Imagine how hard it would be to live their lives. Earlier that week I had invited 100 orphans and their caretakers to join me for lunch. Through teary eyes, I asked the grandmothers and single mothers why their children were not in school. Their answers were all the same: they simply could not afford it. The Turkish government offered free schools but they use Turkish, which the kids would have to learn first before they could understand what was being taught. The schools run by Syrians are not free as the teachers themselves are refugees and need to make ends meet.
With this information in hand, en route back to San Francisco, I crafted a strategy and plan for GiveLight to make a meaningful impact on Syrian orphans in Turkey. We formed a strategic alliance with a trusted non-profit organization based in Istanbul that is run by dedicated and professional Syrians. Since last winter, we have coordinated a few more projects including distribution of jackets to 300 orphans, which keep them warm on the way to and from school. We also sponsored activities and dinner and fun activities for 400 orphans.
Last September, we began supporting 100 orphans and sending them to school. The cost to support one child for one month is $50, which covers school tuition, uniforms, books, shoes, field trips and snacks. We are thankful to our friends and supporters who decided right away to support the cause. As of today we have 80+ monthly supporters and our goal is to close the gap and reach 100 sponsors by Jan 2017.
If you have been wondering how you can make an impact, you can begin by changing one life. We will send you a bio of the child you are sponsoring within 4-6 weeks, provided you commit to at least one school year's sponsorship. You will be able to communicate with the child by email and may even be able to plan a visit in the future.
I will be traveling to Turkey again this winter with a team of 7 volunteers from the Bay Area with the following agenda:
- Distribute at least 10,000 blankets to orphans and refugees.
- Visit our children in their new school.
- Establish a teleconference room, which will allow volunteers/sponsors from all over the world to connect with our children and build a personal connection.
We can't save everyone but we can each start with supporting one child. Please join me in turning sorrow into smiles. For a fraction of your daily latte cost, you can spread love and light in the world.
May your life be filled with love & light.