Bringing smiles on faces of refugee children

Pooja Pradeep at an interaction after the Tedx session in Visakhapatnam   | Photo Credit: K_R_DEEPAK

When the heartbreaking picture of the two-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi’s body washing ashore the coast in Turkey stunned the world in 2015, it left a deep impact on Pooja Pradeep as well.

The 24-year-old was so restless that she decided to do her bit for the refugee children.

Thus the global initiative ‘Letters of Love’ was started with an aim to deliver handwritten messages with picture postcards to thousands of Syrian refugee children during the New Year.

“Our aim was to deliver smiles to thousands of Iraqi, Syrian and Yazidi refugee children who flee terror and live in countries that aren’t exactly welcoming. We send them New Year postcards which have a colourful picture and a warm short Arabic message for them. It is one day of joy for them,” said Ms. Pradeep.

In the city to deliver a talk at the Tedx held recently in Gitam University, she spoke to The Hindu about the global initiative that managed to reach out to more than 13,000 refugee children in January 2017, but is also working towards sensitising students on the global humanitarian crisis through education modules.

“The Syrian refugee crisis had caught the global media attention with the depressing picture of the body of Alan Kurdi and the Syrian girl Hudea who broke millions of hearts with a picture of hers with hands held up surrendering before the camera. I was also moved by Humans of New York photo-blogger Brandon Stanton who kept covering lives of refugees across European countries. That is when the thought of reaching out to the children with happy picture postcards occurred to me,” said Ms. Pradeep, a mechanical engineer turned history teacher.

Her husband, who was working with Seed of Peace, an American NGO, helped her connect with people working in the conflict zones. Soon, she heard back from Jennifer Roberts, education officer at the UNHCR, who guaranteed that her letters would reach the refugee children.

Here’s how it works: Anyone who wishes to send a message to a refugee child can visit their Facebook page and send their message with a photograph in their inbox. The message is then translated to Syrian Arabic by their translator Amna Niaz, handwritten on a postcard with the photograph, and then sent to a child in Turkey and Jordan. Supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Ms. Pradeep and her team sent postcards to more than 13,000 refugee children on New Year’s day in 2017 and managed to raise ₹1.40 lakh worth of funds.

“This year we effectively engaged over 20,000 people from across the world who sent their messages with pictures to us,” she said.

Emotional connect

The pictures managed to create a strong emotional connect with the refugee children living in hostile conditions. “We received emails from our facilitators in Turkey which stated how these children, who have no hope, were so happy to see the letters written by their ‘friends’ across the oceans. One of the volunteers broke down while distributing the handwritten Arabic letters on seeing the joy on the faces of the children,” she recalled.

The initiative has enabled a platform where people across the globe stand in solidarity with the refugee children and establish a human connect.

“Apart from delivering the letters, we sensitise the students in schools and colleges on global humanitarian crisis. We have a module that educators can adopt to raise awareness about the crisis,” she added.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 1:08:49 AM |

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