UL-Lafayette honors program helping Syria’s refugees

As civil war rages in Syria, the Honors Program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is reaching out to provide aid to refugees through its Orphan Outreach Program.

Since fundraising began in January, the organization has raised $7,000 and donated eight tons of food benefiting 1,600 Syrian refugees, said Zadid Haq, the community outreach chairman of the Honors Program executive board.

Syria has been embroiled in civil war between government and rebel forces for three years, and human rights observers have put the death toll at more than 140,000.

Haq said he was alarmed by the Syrian crisis, so he organized Syrian orphan outreach in an effort to raise awareness of Honors students and encourage them to make a difference on the international scale.

“I focused on orphans because I believe the innocent children of Syria are truly blameless and the most undeserving of these horrible consequences,” Haq said.

He said the majority of the donations so far have come from Imam Eid Kneifati and the Islamic Center of Lafayette.

The organization also is reaching out to Christian churches for support, as most children from Syria are either Muslim or Christian, Haq said.

In addition to donations, the Honors Program plans to raise money by selling candy during its weekly seminar courses, holding bake sales on campus and asking local restaurants to host benefit nights.

Haq said a donation of just $1 is enough to feed a child for one day.

The key to Orphan Outreach’s success has been former UL-Lafayette student Naaser Sawaf, whose father is from Syria and who has worked to route the money to a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey, Haq said.

The Turkish government oversees all expenditures, and Sawaf keeps receipts to prove 100 percent of the money is going toward direct aid.

“These are the guidelines Mr. Sawaf has personally set and strictly followed through his years of selfless humanitarian work,” Haq said.

Sawaf said he has been providing direct aid to Syria for about a year. He began by sending food, over-the-counter medicine and baby formula.

In the past two months, he said, there has been an influx of Syrian refugees — too many to fit in the refugee camps.

“It’s hard not to feel the urge to do something if you can. It’s the urge of humanity to help other people,” Sawaf said. “These people were not getting any food, and the weather was like negative 10 degrees.”

A campus bake sales benefiting the Orphan Outreach Program was held Thursday amd another will be held April 9.

Along with its local community service projects, the organization plans to make Orphan Outreach its main charity focus each spring semester, Haq said.

For more information, visit honors.louisiana.edu/content/current-students/honors-orphan-outreach.