Last fall I traveled to four countries – Lebanon, Jordan, Nigeria and India – to witness what people are doing to stop violence against women and girls. I am honored to be part of this project – a collaboration between News Deeply and Oxfam in the Middle East – and look forward to sharing the series with you all later this year. In each country we selected one project to profile in video, which we are in the process of finalizing. For now, here’s a glimpse at what is to come. Globally violence against women is still prevalent, but it’s heartening to see initiatives of all kinds and scales out there serving those most in need.
I can still hear Ghina’s voice in my head. The 16-year-old Syrian refugee spoke like a 20-something seasoned activist (until she started talking about her favorite South Korean boy band!). Ghina’s father was arrested years ago, and the family hasn’t heard from him since. Her sisters made it to the U.S. and Germany through education opportunities, but Ghina and her mother are still living in southern Turkey. We visited Ghina to learn more about what life is like for her divided family and how the war has affected her education.
I recently collaborated with Xanthe Ackerman and Molly Bernstein of the Fuller Project for International Reporting to tell Raghad’s story for Foreign Affairs. Raghad is one of thousands of teenage Syrian girls in Turkey whose education was disrupted by the war. Once in Turkey, Syrians face many decisions regarding their children’s education: to send them to government schools where language and discrimination can be an obstacles or to enroll their children in private Arabic-language schools that can often be cost prohibitive. Some families cannot send their children to school and rely on their income to live.
Among the 1.4 million school-aged children who have fled to neighboring countries, 700,000 do not attend school.
Raghad says she is fortunate that her family can send her to an Arabic-language school, but she admits nervousness when it comes to her future. She wants to go to university but doesn’t know how it will be paid for, where she will study or what language she will study in.
After seeing this photo of Alex Assali serving food to Berlin’s homeless on Facebook, my friend and colleague Caitlin L. Chandler and I went to meet him. We were fortunate that he shared his story with us. Here’s how we told his inspiring tale for Al Jazeera.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to cover the Pope’s visit to the United States. My last day on the job my colleague Jordan Gantz and I hung out at a bar in south Philadelphia that we picked for its name – The P.O.P.E.. Here’s the story we found there.
Three talented Nepalis respond to mental health needs in their country after the earthquake.
Conflict in places like Syria and Iraq has disrupted the education of millions of children. This story looks at one school in Istanbul trying to make a small difference by offering free education in Arabic for about 300 students.
By Elie Gardner
Catholic News Service
ISTANBUL (CNS) — Basima Toma teaches English to about 40 children at the Don Bosco youth center.
A young Iraqi boy stands at the chalkboard with a plastic ruler in his hand and spells out the words W-I-N-T-E-R, S-P-R-I-N-G, S-U-M-M-E-R, A-U-T-U-M-N.
Toma and her family have been in Istanbul long enough to see each of these seasons come and go, more than once. In 2012 Toma, her husband and four children left their home in Baghdad.
Toma and her family are Chaldean Catholics. In Baghdad, as Christian-owned businesses were targeted and destroyed, Toma worried more and more for her children’s safety. One of her daughters was the only Christian in her classroom.
“Now I don’t fear for my children,” Toma says. “I put my head on my pillow and am not afraid when they are not with me.”
“Here we don’t ask anyone what religion they are or what political party they belong to,” said Salesian Father Andres Calleja Ruiz, head of the Don Bosco youth center. “We just want to help them.”
The Istanbul center was started 20 years ago as a temporary response to the wave of refugees coming from Iraq. Conflict in the region continues, and new refugees and asylum seekers arrive every day. Today, 300 children, mostly from Iraq and Syria, are enrolled at the center.
The center is primarily funded by donations to the Salesian Mission in Bonn, Germany, and students attend at no cost.
Like Toma, most of the teachers at the center are refugees or asylum seekers. Father Calleja says this helps the youth because the teachers have lived the same situation and understand what the students have suffered. They also speak Arabic.
While the young people study English, math and computing, Father Calleja said, the center is also “a center of joy, where children can play and sing.”
Sarah Mohammed, 14, left her home in Aleppo, Syria, about one year ago. After an explosion near her school, the students were told not to come to class anymore: It was not safe.
“Many of them have never been in school, or they have been very irregular going to school because of the wars,” Father Calleja said. “We try to give them some regularity so that after one, two or three years when they reach some other country, they haven’t lost the continuity of school.”
Sarah said she loves to study. She speaks English and has also learned Turkish. She dreams of being an engineer and attending college.
While Sarah and her younger sister are enrolled at Don Bosco, their 17-year-old brother works 12 hours a day in a bakery to help support the family.
The U.N. Human Rights Council reports that the number of refugees and asylum-seekers in Turkey is expected to hit 1.9 million in 2015.
For most refugees and asylum seekers, Turkey is only a stopping point, a purgatory they pass on the way to new lives in Australia, Canada, the United States and Europe.
While Toma worries less for her family’s safety, she said she worries more about paying the bills. Compared to Iraq and Syria, Istanbul is an expensive city, with limited work opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers.
After more than two years in Istanbul, she is still not sure where her family will be resettled or when they will go. She said she prays they will be granted asylum in Canada, where most of her relatives are already living.
“I believe God sees us, and that he’s knows what’s best for my family,” Toma said.
She added that her dream is simple: She wants a small house with nice furniture and for her children to attend college.
Father Calleja said he hopes and prays that the wars finish and people can live in peace. Until then, he believes the center serves a critical need.
“The group environment and the environment of joy, freedom and tolerance is already healing many wounds,” Father Calleja said.
Last fall Jordan Gantz and I told the story of how the U.S. Forest Service helped Peru develop an information system for tracking wood harvested from the Amazon. The trip included my first visit to a saw mill, interaction with many hardworking and inspiring people and lots of mosquito bites.
Last fall I had the opportunity to travel for a few days down the Tambopata River with Barbara Fraser to tell this story for Mongabay. Read Barb’s full story here.
Just wanted to share a short travel video and some images I shot in Lima to accompany Nicholas Gill’s story “Lima’s Melting Pot” in the May issue of SilverKris, the travel magazine of Singapore Airlines. Here in the southern hemisphere the grey skies of winter are upon us. Missing those beautiful summer sunsets!