HUDSON — A benefit concert for the organization Help Syria’s Kids, which helps Syrian children in a refugee camp in Ketermaya, Lebanon, receive education, food and other basic needs was held at a home in Hudson on Sunday.
Students at the Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School in Hudson have been acting as pen pals with the refugee children at the camp since April 2017 after Danette Gorman, a member of Hudson’s First Presbyterian Church, visited Lebanon and saw their lack of education, she said. Members of the British Council in Lebanon told Gorman that by helping the children with education and to learn English, they could overcome their lives as refugees.
“The letters are a tool for education and a tool for transformation,” Gorman said.
The American and Syrian children write to each other about many topics, from where they live to what books they’re reading, Gorman said.
“Kids want to share their life with other kids and then they also want to share about what they love and games,” she said. “I believe that the purest form of connection is between children, and so what happens between children is really magical.”
The fundraising efforts during the Sunday event were for education because it is expensive for volunteers from the American University of Beirut to get to the camp, where they work three days a week, Gorman said, adding money was also being raised for school supplies and books. Previous sources of funding have come from Gorman’s friends and the First Presbyterian Church congregation, and some have donated food in Lebanon to the camp.
“The objective is to just do what we can with really relatively limited resources to get the children who are in school to have some help, to get better at school,” she said. “They’re getting nothing within the country, no program.”
The efforts of the organization are proving to be a success, Gorman said.
“Already in five weeks of our program, the volunteers are telling me that the kids are improving, they’re starting to understand the structure, they’re writing better — it’s incredible,” she said.
Out of the 358 people who reside at the camp, there are 58 families and 25 orphans, and Gorman has developed good relationships with the parents of the children in need who are receptive to her mission, she said during the event.
“When I attend and I talk to the parents about what we’re trying to do, they will be open to listening to me,” she said. “Most of the parents believe in hope for their children and that they can be professionals in the world.”
Residents can get involved by checking out the Help Syria’s Kids website to be aware of the situation and share it with others.
“There are many points of action, but I want the first step to be awareness so that they [residents] can make those informed decisions about how they want to be involved,” Gorman said.
Help Syria’s Kids is in the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization and for the time being residents can write checks to the First Presbyterian Church, which is acting as a bridge, Church Elder Theresa Parsons said. She read from a letter sent to a child in Ketermaya.
“I will work hard to support, donate and help you in any way I can, you are all so beautiful and smart, bright people,” Parsons read from the letter. “Please continue to have hope. We love you so much.”
Gorman was asked by Egyptian pianist Seba Ali, who performed at the Sunday event, if she could provide 1,000 exchanged letters between the American and the Syrian children so the musician could display them at the Imagine Workshop and Concert Series in February 2019 at the Lebanese American University, Gorman said. Gorman has received about 600 letters, but for her, it’s more than reaching a target.
“There is an opportunity for children in our country and in the world to participate in the education and the outreach, and the sharing of culture and dreams and their spirit, that can change the world for children,” she said. “It signifies something bigger.”
The organization helps to humanize the problems of the Middle East by showing that the kids affected are people, Craig Bender, of Ghent,
“We view them as a ‘Syrian problem,’” Bender said.
The organization and the letter-writing program are both remarkable, said Catherine Mikic, of Hudson,
“I think it’s extraordinary,” she said. “Who would think this is happening in Hudson.”
To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.