Two alumni, who were Study Abroad students at the American University in Cairo (AUC) in 2008, Lexi Shereshewsky and Demetri Blaisdell created The Syria Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Syrian refugees affected by the ongoing crisis. Shereshewsky, marketing manager for DailyMail.com and a member of the AUC tri-state alumni chapter and Blaisdell, who is an associate at the law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP, started off by raising money in their community, and receiving support from family, friends and colleagues who wanted to make a difference. Both alumni lived in Damascus, Syria throughout 2009 and 2010 and experienced the country’s rich history and traditions, hospitable people, and diverse and tolerant culture. Only months after they left, the country was torn apart by violence and political instability.“The Syria of today is not the Syria that we knew. But the people are still the same, and we felt we had to do whatever we could to give back everything they gave us,” said Shereshewsky.
The fund’s mission is to help return a sense of normalcy for families whose lives have been disrupted by the civil war. “This means getting children back in school and providing supplies to families in need,” explained Shereshewsky. “For example, recently, our partner organization, South Azraq Women's Association (SAWA) from Azraq, Jordan, identified a young girl whose legs were severely injured and did not have a wheelchair. We provided the funds to purchase the wheelchair within a day.”
Since Shereshewsky and Blaisdell began collecting donations in 2013, they have raised nearly $80,000 and have bought thousands of items to distribute in Azraq and Mafraq, Jordan, including heaters, blankets, hygiene products and powdered milk.
Currently, the organization is helping fund the construction of a multipurpose space in Azraq that will serve as a library, reading room and classroom for catch-up and literacy courses. “There are more than 100 students aged 12 and under who will use the facility when it is completed in about a month," said Shereshewsky. "We are hoping to support a computer training workshop and other programs in the library. We are also working on a project to forge partnerships between classrooms in the United States and classrooms in Jordan. We believe that both classrooms can benefit from learning more about their peers living a world away.”
Like any new organization, there are always obstacles that inhibit the fulfillment of the organization’s mission. For The Syria Fund, receiving sufficient financial assistance has been an obstacle. “Our most pressing needs are increased financial support,” explained Blaisdell. “In order to have a long-term impact and build relationships with local partners, we need to continue raising awareness and encouraging donations.”
Shereshewsky and Blaisdell have visited Jordan twice in the last two years to create and strengthen relationships with qualified and dedicated partners working on the ground in Jordan. In addition to partnering with SAWA, The Syria Fund is collaborating with other regional and international organizations, including a volunteer-based group in Amman, Helping Refugees in Jordan and Mercy Corps.
Emphasizing the need to spread more awareness on the Syrian refugee crisis, Blaisdell noted, “Many people struggle to empathize with the victims of a conflict that is so massive and difficult to comprehend,” he said. “By sharing memories of our time in Syria and emphasizing the human side of the crisis, we hope to change perceptions in our communities. We want people to see that refugees have a lot in common with us; they are facing tremendous hardships and need our support.”