NINE-year-old Chan Zhi Hong got up close and personal with the impact of war when he joined his parents on Tzu Chi Foundation’s humanitarian mission to aid Syrian refugees in Turkey recently.
In his blog, the youngest volunteer in the mission expressed his anger over the ongoing war that had caused unimaginable hardship to the people of the country.
He described how a beneficiary had kissed him on the forehead, and his sadness on seeing how the war had caused 15-year-old Najuah Muhammad Khalid to lose both legs in a bomb blast.
For Zhi Hong’s parents, who had cancelled their holiday in Vietnam to be part of the mission, the biggest lesson they wanted their son to learn from the experience was that “war is brutal and no one should take peace for granted”.
In this mission, 25 volunteers, including Top Glove Corp chairman Tan Sri Lim Wee Chai and Berjaya Group executive chairman Tan Sri Vincent Tan, flew to Istanbul to distribute school bags, candy, surgical gloves and toothbrushes to the Buddhist charitable organisation’s free clinic and El Menahil International School (EMIS) in Sultangazi.
The distribution was coordinated by Faisal Hu and his wife Nadya Chou, both Tzu Chi volunteers from Taiwan charged with coordinating relief work in Turkey.
Together with another colleague, David Yu, they oversee aid distribution at the clinic and international school with a staff of 300 other volunteers who are Syrian refugees themselves.
Making an impression was the handover ritual. The benefactors lined up in a straight row, bent low and thanked the beneficiaries before handing over the donation. The ritual was completed by a warm hug.
Tzu Chi Malaysia commissioner Yeo Kar Peng, who was with the mission, said she was aware of the public speculation surrounding the Buddhist organisation’s objectives.
She explained that human touch was a way to maintain the recipient’s dignity and convey the benefactor’s compassion.
“People can continue to speculate on the way we do things. But speculation is not going to change anything. What we can do is to help turn this around instead of allowing it to become another vicious cycle.
“After going through so much trauma, it is important that Syrian refugees are shown compassion. People should also realise this is not about religion but humanity,” said Yeo.
“It is especially important for children from war-torn countries to feel and know that there are people who love and care for them so they will not grow up angry and hateful.
“If we do not help them, they may not be able to progress and in the end, become a burden to society,” said Yeo.
There are four million Syrian refugees in Turkey with 700,000 in Istanbul alone.
Tzu Chi is currently providing aid to some 6,000 households. It includes financial study aid to students who previously had to skip school to work in order to support their families.
At EMIS, up to 450 students receive between 500 Turkish Lira (TL) (about RM390) and 800TL (RM624) each, depending on their age, so they can continue their studies.
Another is in the form of grocery prepaid cards, 150TL (about RM117) given out every two months to some 5,000 families whose living and financial conditions have been assessed by volunteers.
“Education is their only way out of this situation. It will give them the power and tools to progress. Hopefully, one day, with this knowledge and skill, they will find a way to better their current situation. The grocery aid is not much comparatively, but enough for a family to buy food for two days,” said Yeo.
Though safe under the protective umbrella of the Turkish government, Syrian refugees are not citizens. They have access to government healthcare and education but are limited for job opportunities.
According to the country’s labour laws, Syrian migrants to Turkey must apply for temporary protection, a process that can take several months. Applicants are required to stay in an area where they want to work for six months.
In addition, there is a quota stating that the number of workers under temporary protection may not exceed 10% of employed Turkish citizens.
Hasan Beilouna, a Syrian refugee who now works at EMIS teaching English, said he himself had floundered for a year and a half without a job after paying human smugglers US$3,000 (RM12,414) to bring his family across the border.
His financial burden has since lightened after starting work at EMIS a year ago, receiving between 2,000TL (RM1,555) and 2,400TL (RM1,866) a month.
Dr Abdul Jawab Kassab, a doctor who lost his villa and a well-paying career that earned more than US$2,000 (RM8,280) because of the Syrian war, said, if not for emotional and financial support from the organisation, he would have sunk into depression.
Though he is earning less than half of his original salary now, he finds solace in helping refugee patients at the Tzu Chi free clinic and in knowing his family is safe.
The running of both the free clinic and EMIS is supported by Tzu Chi.
Hu, who manages the financial sheets for these two entities, confirms that monthly operating costs for the clinic, which treats up to 12,000 people monthly, is US$40,000 (RM165,588) while EMIS, which has 3,000 students, requires US$230,000 (RM952,131).
At the top of the free clinic’s want list are two sets of fully equipped dental chairs, while EMIS requires a language lab for English lessons.
Those interested to donate may contact the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor branch at Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall, 359, Jalan Kepong, Kuala Lumpur, at 03-6256 3800.