When turning on the news you can see hundreds of tragedies going on in the world, and it seems like there is nothing you can do about them—especially as a young person.
But helping to make a difference is much easier than it may seem, whether it’s volunteering to help with hurricane relief efforts here in the U.S. or helping to send aid to families in crisis overseas. I am still a student at Lake Forest High School but I got my chance to help when Lina Sergie Attar, co-founder and CEO of Karam Foundation in Lake Forest, offered me a summer internship that would change my life.
Over the past six years, the war in Syria has resulted in the loss of 400,000 lives and has left behind 5 million refugees and 6 million internally displaced people in that country. Attar refers to it as “the biggest humanitarian crisis of our lifetime.”
Founded in 2007, Karam Foundation is a small Lake Forest-based nonprofit organization determined to do big things. What started a decade ago with a simple food drive on the south side of Chicago has extended to an organization that reaches across Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. The goal is to build a better future for thousands of Syrian families.
Helping those in need is almost second nature to me so as soon as she offered me the job, I accepted. The refugee crisis may seem worlds away but since Karam Foundation is headquartered in the Gorton Center, the opportunity to help is right here in our own backyard.
A lot of my work during the internship included interacting with people who donate and follow Karam Foundation on social media. Every day, I would personally thank people who donated or did something on our behalf. My heart was warmed by the generosity of people and their stories about why they chose our charity. People from all over would donate money wanting to help in any way possible.
One time, a 6-year-old boy donated his tooth fairy money and allowance, because he said that the kids in Syria deserved to go to school just like him. A young musician gave some of the proceeds from his recent album to Karam. I noticed that many Muslims chose to donate their Zakat during Ramadan. Non-Muslims alike continued to donate. A group of girls sold t-shirts and donated $3,000 of their sales. Some of these people had personal connections to Syria, but others just wanted to do their part to make the lives of others better.
In this season of Thanksgiving and giving back, I hope that others follow their lead.
One of the reasons I chose to work for Karam is because I truly believe that they are making a difference in people’s lives. One of my favorite programs that they run is called Karam House. It is a house built in Rehanyli, Turkey, which is about 10 kilometers from the Syrian border. At Karam House, kids between ages 14-18 receive an education based on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math). Karam House provides Syrian refugee teens education and training to give them competitive skills so they can either continue their education at college, or go get a job. Karam House hosts workshops held by professionals in a wide range of industries, teaching skills such as Journalism, Coding, Entrepreneurship, Law, Engineering, Graphic Design, Turkish, and English. This allows them to get many of the same opportunities as many of the kids on the North Shore do.
Two women I worked with during my internship—Roya Naderi and Dania Mukahha, the Karam team’s creative designer—traveled to Karam House this summer to hold a Shark Tank-like workshop that resembled the business and entrepreneurship course at Lake Forest High School. Karam in Arabic means “generosity”, but the goal of this organization is to go beyond giving food or clothing. The mission is to help people help themselves through education and development.
My experience shows that even though this crisis is happening on the other side of the world, it is important that those who can help are aware of what they can do to help—especially here in Lake Forest where we have so much to give. No child should go hungry. No child should go without an education. No parent should feel the burden of not being able to properly take care of their child, when the situation is beyond their control.
The people of Syria need our help, and it is much easier than you think.
Karam Foundation is located at 230 Northgate in Lake Forest. For more information about how you can get involved, visit karamfoundation.org.