Karam Foundation teaches children refugees the skills necessary to build a brighter future

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Syria’s Book of the Dead is the first volume of a book that lists the names of the 100,000 Syrians that lost their lives since the onset of the civil strife. Published in 2014, the number has now significantly risen to over 230,000 – a second volume is sadly on the way. This project to not forget the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who lost their lives, was initiated by Lina Sergie Attar, a Syrian-American architect and writer.

Attar, an MIT graduate with a Masters in Architecture Design, is also the founder of Karam Foundation, a non-profit organization on a mission to build a better future for Syria. Karam means generosity in Arabic. The organization’s focus is to provide long-term solutions to the largest humanitarian crisis in modern history mainly through innovative educational programs.

Established in Chicago in 2007, its initial purpose was to spread generosity and encourage Arab Americans to support different aid and charity organizations from around the world. As the humanitarian crisis unfolded in Syria, the organization shifted focus and turned towards providing long-term solutions to the crisis.

Entrepreneurial and technological workshops

One of the foundation’s key programs is the Karam Leadership Program (KLP) which aims to provide innovative entrepreneurial and technological workshops to Syrian refugees in schools in Turkey in order to equip them with the necessary tools to build a better future for themselves.

Launched in November of 2014,  the program has so far focused on refugees in five schools in Reyhanli, Turkey, a town with over 60 thousands refugees. So far over 130 volunteer mentors from different countries around the world have taught around 600 Syrian refugees on a wide range of topics including creative theory, literary arts, journalism and media, entrepreneurship, languages, etc. The foundation is also investing in the schools by donating equipment such as computers and heating systems.

“People don’t understand that the refugees getting to Europe are middle class and paid thousands and thousands to get there. For the ones in Turkey, they can’t even get to Europe and we want to create opportunities for them” says Attar.

One of the workshops, led by writer Hala Droubi and a team of journalists, taught students courses on journalism. Following the training, four young Syrian boys were granted an internship at a Syrian newspaper in Istanbul with the funds necessary to conduct their internships crowdfunded by Karam Foundation.

One of the refugees, Ahmad, had a front page story during his internship and now works as a full time journalist in Turkey.  “He was 17 when he started workshop with us and he didn’t even know he would be interested in journalism”, says Attar.

Another group of four young boys started their own media group called Zoom based out of Turkey.

Another KLP program lead by Syrian entrepreneur Mohanad Ghashin, CEO of ShopGo, an ecommerce platform focused on emerging markets and Dia Haykal, head of content at Haykal Media, taught children refugees the basics of entrepreneurship including how to manage a business, present business ideas, etc. Six months later, they were back. This time, they were teaching the refugee students data entry on computers.

“During one of the coding workshops, a star student Mustapha who taught himself 5 coding languages since the fifth grade, worked alongside our coding team and after we left, he took on a leadership role to teach other kids” says Attar.

In November, a culinary program led by California-based Sarah Boukai was put together to teach young girls and boys about local ingredients and what they can make out of them. With the language program, Karam Foundation hired turkish instructors to teach children Turkish and as some girls excelled, they started working to teach other kids Turkish.

“If kids have desire to go to university, we want them to go; we want to open opportunities. For kids who don’t want to go to university, we want to help them too”, adds Attar.

This month, Karam Foundation is working on its largest workshop to date: bringing in 50 mentors to a new school in Turkey to teach over 1,000 children refugees. Haykal will lead the entrepreneurship program and Droubi will be back to teach journalism. Several other mentors are on board including architects who will teach children how to develop projects based on solar energy.

The Karam House

With the proven success of the KLP program, Karam Foundation has a new ambitious and noble project: establish the Karam House in Reyhanli by the end of the summer. Open to children refugees year round, the Karam House will consist of a tech hub that provides access to a range of tools and courses with a mix of full time mentors and visiting trainers. The tech hub will also provide work opportunities and look to establish an innovative environment towards a brighter future for children refugees.

“Refugees are losing hope too fast. These kind of opportunities, being able to have a skill and work in dignity and earn income, can keep Syrians from getting on these boats and moving further away from Syria” says Attar.