I, Immigrant

I was in Syria not so long ago. The war had already started and sieges and war crimes were no longer uncommon. The first reset of the mind had completed. People braced for the second mental reset and preparation to mirror the worsening of reality. Yet basic life was still functioning and humming to a certain extent, despite the uncertainty. Schools moved underground but there were still students attending. One still had to run across the shifting battleground lines. Sniper fires were constant; sounds of bombs and shootings echoed daily, but it was nothing compared to the situation in Aleppo right now. Most have been evacuated to Turkey due to the recent escalation of violence, but even those “lucky” 80,000 face a much arduous journey ahead: a life of a refugee.

I am a 6x immigrant myself: the first 2x with my parents as a kid, going to much richer countries without much. We left everything behind and arrived poor/low class by all OECD governments standards. The first five years, we stayed poor to low middle class, but my parents kept their heads down, learned two different languages, and worked extremely hard. One rung at a time, we achieved the American Dream a decade later: a house, two cars, and even a dog. The other 4x were as an adult, when I had the privilege of being an educated “expatriate”.  In all six situations, I had amazing support network and a welcoming society that made the new life liveable and eventually happy. Whether it was the Jehovah Witnesses members who came knocking on our doors and included us in their community (albeit with an ulterior motive) or the fellow immigrants who accompanied my mom to the DMV, taught her how to drive, and where to buy the cheapest groceries, someone was willing to lend a hand when we needed it.

Yet, these Syrian refugees have nothing. Getting out of the country takes courage, guts, and an entrepreneurial spirit to leave everything familiar behind and create a new one out of literal ashes. But that’s only half of the journey for the survivors. On new shores, they have to figure out new ways of doing things, get their kids into schools, and try to find a community and support network- all in a different language. At the same time, they face societal discrimination, diminishing employment opportunities, and bewildering and costly legal battles. Not exactly a welcoming committee.

As a fellow human, we need to be at least sympathetic to their plights. Not everyone of them is a jihadist, a violent criminal, a rapist, etc. Of course, they will exist, just as statistically speaking, a small percentage of any society will contain psychopaths, the mentally disturbed, and criminals. It takes only one person to besmirch the reputation of an entire population, no matter how well behaved the rest are.

I sympathize and empathize with the refugees. Living in Istanbul and Berlin, I see them a lot. One particular case is seared into my mind. I was on the Marmaray, the underground train that connects Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus, having just spent a blissful afternoon with a close friend window shopping, drinking tea, and chatting in Maçka Park in Nisantasi (which was bombed a week ago). In this sanitized tube under harsh florescent light, I saw a Syrian mother with her 4-year-old daughter. The daughter was deep asleep, not waking up at the various stops. “Salam aleikum,” I said to the mother. The mother was from Syria, having crossed over with her daughter. In Istanbul, she hoped for a better life, but could not. Homeless, she and her daughter slept outside, but neither could sleep well- people kicked them, men jeered at her. The train ride, which costs a little under a dollar, was the last refuge. Here, her daughter could actually get decent sleep without much harassment. The mother was ashamed. I thought about giving her money, but knew that the very act would make her more ashamed.

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Re:Coded Coding School in Iraq Refugee Camp

It is my moral obligation to do something about Syria. I spent much of the past few years either agonizing over it or trying to avoid the graphic images and stories all together. Needless to say, the latter is impossible, especially given my job. I wanted to put my forte to good use and make a long lasting impact. I am not an emergency humanitarian specialist. But I am good at tech and entrepreneurship and understand refugees/ IDPs.

So when Ali Clare, Director of Re:Coded asked if I wanted to be involved. I jumped at the opportunity. Yesterday, I officially joined the Board of Directors of Re:Coded, a social enterprise that teaches Syrian refugees and displaced youths in refugee camps how to code in order to successfully train them for the workforce. Partnered with Flatiron School’s Web Development Immersive, the adapted and localized courses are 10 months long and include English intensive, Ruby, CSS, Postgres, JavaScript, etc. At the end of the course, the fellows receive a certification and guaranteed job within six months of graduation.

Currently, it is operational in four camps near Erbil, Iraq, but with the new influx of refugees in bordering countries and thus demand from governments, we are looking to expand. I am honored, humbled, and super excited to be working with an extraordinary team to increase Re:Coded’s impact and footprints.

There are times when I feel Sisyphean, that no matter what one does, there will always be someone who is going to commit violence and destroy trust. But one person helped and one act stopped is one step forward. All we can do in life to make sure that we are going forward. The struggle itself is rewarding to oneself and inspiring for others. Since being introduced to Ali six months ago, I’ve been in awe of her will to push forward and get the results.

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