Rasha Abousalem

Rasha Abousalem

Bring Joy to A Child in Need

17 June 2015 Published in

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.

For more information on Global First Responder and how you can help support their medical missions, as well as information on how you can volunteer on future trips, please visit their website.

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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. 

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One Syrian Child, One Life Affirming Lollipop

16 November 2014 Published in

By Rasha Abousalem

November 16, 2014

His eyes were dim, heavy with the stresses of seeing war and loss and death. I did not know his name, but I would never forget his face. It’s carved into my mind, as if time had frozen still. He was probably around 4 years old, but his face looked as if it had aged decades.

Something about the way he stood in front of me as I heard the shutter of my camera snap open and close. From behind the lens I felt safe and unattached. I did not realize it then, in that hectic moment around me, that before me stood a beautiful child who had all but lost what little innocence remained in him still.

The craziness around me was that of a man handing out sugary lollipops to the children of Sahaab, an “illegal” refugee camp situated some 40 minutes outside of Amman, Jordan.  I had taken a taxi there to to meet up with the medical volunteers that I was translating for.  Yes, I took a taxi to a refugee camp.

Now let’s go back to the lollipop and why it is so inexplicably important. This man, this poor man, had unintentionally set off a riot as he became consumed by a mob of children and their parents in a desperate attempt to get their hands on this deliciously sweet and artificially colored candy on a stick. His hands were raised high as I stood above him, perched up on the back of a pickup truck in an attempt to photo-document the moment.

As desperate arms raised high got their hands on what they craved, I stepped down off of the truck, and before me stood this tiny body in overalls. His shoeless pudgy feet were covered with sand, and his face had layers of dirt drowning out his youthful skin. Yet it was that lollipop that stood out. It was brighter than his dull skin. It was radiant- beautifully showcasing its bright colors, which were in sharp contrast to the backdrop of his dirty skin.

I didn’t realize the significance of the moment until I had pressed the play button on my Nikon to review the photo I had just taken. It was at that instant that the background noise died out, and everything seemed to slow down. There it was- his face and that damn lollipop.

And I thought of my own self, whose family identifies as Palestinian refugees from 1948 and whose parents lived in refugee camps decades earlier. Yet what kind of a refugee was I compared to this child? I was raised in the states and was privileged enough to not fear air raids and bombs dropping on me or running across country borders in the middle of the night to avoid death or rape. I could get a stupid lollipop any time I wanted to.

So what was it about this child and his silence as he quietly enjoyed his momentary joy of candy? I realized the sorrow that I was feeling was not necessarily only for that child, but for myself as a person. I had failed him. We, as human beings, had failed him.

In our attempt to obtain everything we can as people of privileged nations, we have lost touch of what it is to be human. When our children feel entitled to the latest technology, yet this child found endless happiness in a lollipop, that is when we have failed our own species.

We have willingly disconnected from the outside world. There are more viewers watching American Idol every week (32.8 million) than the average Total Day viewers for MSNBC news (344,000).

Syrian refugees have hit the disgraceful number of over 3.2 million according to UNHCR. The death toll of Syrians killed has reached almost 200,000 people according to UN sources. And the disheartening truth that while I was raising funds to purchase items for refugee children prior to my departure from the United States, I had the challenge of trying to convince people to donate their money to a good cause rather than spend it on an overpriced cup of coffee. I could feel by blood pressure rising as I looked at some of these people’s faces, reluctant to give up their beverage of the day and have that money go toward a child suffering from the effects of war.

Yet hope was found in the many who did donate, whether it be a single stuffed animal or $200 so willingly given to a stranger on the trust of my word that it will be used exclusively for the sole purpose of bringing a smile to a refugee child.

A lollipop was all it took. A container of glittery nail polish was all it took. A book of stickers was all it took. A small stuffed teddy bear was all it took. A hug was all it took for these children to know that they are not forgotten.

For more photos, interviews, and info regarding my trip, please visit the FB page created for my trip by clicking HERE.

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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. 

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