By Rasha Abousalem
June 17, 2015
I can still recall the smiles of those children I encountered in the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan almost one year ago today. I can still hear the excitement in their voices, the curiosity in their eyes of who I was, and the wanting of love and attention as their arms grasped tightly around my neck. I did not know it at the time, but I was a symbol of hope and security. That I, along with the other volunteers from Global First Responder and Salaam Cultural Museum, to them symbolized a world of strangers who cared about what has been happening to them; that we cared about the losses they have been exposed to. And we did.
When I first decided to go on this three week journey throughout Jordan to interview, photograph, and bring assistance to the refugees fleeing from Syria, I created the Hand to Heart Facebook page to keep all those who donated up to date on the items I was purchasing, as well as how those items were being dispersed overseas. I visited various refugee camps, including the UN-run Za'tari camp, as well as a rehabilitation center for amputees from the Syrian war, and refugees living illegally throughout Jordan.
Now, one year later, I am undertaking another trip and once again working with the non-profit medical relief agency Global First Responder. On August 5 we will be leaving for India and volunteering in the small, rural village of Puttaparthi, located about two hours from Bangalore. This poverty stricken region is home to a little over 15,000 people (2011 estimate). The region is famous worldwide as the birthplace and residence of Indian guru and philanthropist Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Leading attractions include the late guru's residence of Prasanthi Nilayam and a local mosque.
GFR has teamed up with a local sponsor family to provide medical care to locals and will primarily work out of a local school, giving much needed medical attention to local families and will be providing one week of medical care. The GFR team will also be visiting the Super Specialty Hospital- a local hospital founded by the late Sai Baba providing free medical care to all.
This time around I won't be translating obviously, but I will definitely continue the same work that I started in Jordan, which is to bring as many smiles to as many little faces as possible! The local school is attended by roughly 300 children, ranging in ages from 5-17 years old. I asked if there was a local orphanage I could also bring items to, but was informed that there is none.
After speaking to our host in India, items that we are primarily interested in collecting are school supply items (pencils, erasers, backpacks, etc) and toothbrushes, as I was saddened to find out that many of the village children “brush” their teeth using their fingers.
Many have expressed interest in helping in any way they can, and many have asked how and what they can donate. Here's how you can help:
1) Contact me via the Hand to Heart page for information on how to send a monetary donation (either via personal check, money order, PayPal, or directly into my account)
2) Mail me children's items, such as small stuffed animals/toys, children's clothing, etc. Please contact me for my address.
All money collected goes to purchase children's items and to cover cost of transporting those items. All items will be distributed primarily at the school either by me personally or by another member of the GFR team.
Rasha Abousalem has a degree is International Criminal Justice with concentration on human rights and refugee works. She traveled overseas on a voluntary humanitarian trip bringing donations and translation support to Syrian refugees across Jordan, as well as photo-documentation of her journey.