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Confronting the Realities of the Refugee Crisis

Refugees in Aleppo with emergency winter supplies provided by the Karam Foundation.

Farahnaz Afaq was born in a refugee camp in northern Afghanistan, the daughter of a pharmacist and a kindergarten teacher.

When she was three years old, her parents paid traffickers to take them to Iran, where they hoped their children would be able to get a good education. Instead, her father found himself working in a factory making cardboard boxes and his children unable to go to school.

At age six, Afaq and her family moved to Pakistan, again with the help of traffickers. Her father found work as a butcher there.

Things didn’t work out as they planned, and the family returned to Afghanistan, where Afaq was able to attend a broken-down shell of a school with no roof, few books, and teachers, well most of the time.

“I was a ‘writer’ since I was nine,” said Afaq, explaining that she and other students had to copy books by hand and teach themselves when no teachers were available.

Afaq’s story was one of several shared during the five-part series, “Refugee Crisis: Local and Global Responses,” which started October 26 and ended with a two-part program on Monday.

Topics for the sessions included academic perspectives, faith-based reflections, and real-life experiences from the refugee crisis in Syria, Afghanistan, and around the world.

The series, part of Furman’s Cultural Life Program, was presented with the help of and funding from Furman University’s Amnesty International, the Muslim Student Association, the Jewish Student Association, the Student Diversity Council, the Religious Council, the Departments of Religion, History, Political Science and Sociology, the Chaplain’s office, and the Middle East and Islamic Studies Interdisciplinary minor. Additional funding for the program comes from the Kendrick Poerschke fund and the A.J. Head fund.

A young refugee named Iman who was able to attend school in Turkey with the help of the Karam Foundation.
A young refugee named Iman who was able to attend school in Turkey with the help of the Karam Foundation.

Guest speakers for the series included: Furman Political Science Professor Akan Malici; Roya Naderi of the Karam Foundation; Rev. Jason Lee of World Relief, Spartanburg; Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, New York, N.Y.; Wofford College Religion Professor Phil Dorroll; Wofford College student Farahnaz Afaq; Jenna Barnett ’13, land and learning coordinator of the International Rescue Committee in San Diego; Furman alumnus Sami Alkoutami ’16 and Furman student Juhee Bhatt ’19.

Daniel Zhang ’17, a political science major and president of Furman’s chapter of Amnesty International, said he hoped the series would spark conversations across campus. “I hope this series will help students realize the seriousness of the refugee crisis and how human rights are being violated,” he said.

The importance of welcoming refugees was a key theme of the series.

“Receiving refugees with kindness is not always easy: people who think, look, and pray differently than us are often perceived as a threat; a challenge to our ways of living and thinking and worshiping,” said Furman Religion Professor Alfons Teipen. “Ironically, suspicion appears to be particularly strong toward refugees from the Middle East, the very region of the world that gave birth to all three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.”

Roya Naderi of the Chicago-based Karam Foundation shared the work her non-profit organization has been doing to help refugees in Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. The foundation specializes in short-term and long-term programs focusing on innovative education, smart aid, and sustainable development.

“It was a great feeling to see a room full of students eager to learn what they can do to support Syrians experiencing and fleeing war,” said Naderi. “Refugees are people, just like us, who dream just like we do. The Syrian war is now in its sixth year and the situation on the ground is worsening. As people of conscience, it is our duty to uplift the voices on the ground and to share the realities that the Syrian people are facing.”

Afaq, now a junior at Wofford College, wants to turn the reality of her refugee experience into something positive by emulating the value her father put on education. With the help of her mother, Afaq is raising funds in hopes of opening a kindergarten for 20 underprivileged four- to six-year-olds in Kabul, Afghanistan. One of the key parts of the kindergarten: children’s story books.

Afaq read her first children’s book, Rapunzel, at age 19. “I hope these children won’t have the same experience I had,” she said.

Last updated .

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