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FROM READERS: Columbia student raises awareness about Syrian relief efforts

Sunday, September 22, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT
Radhia Khenissi smiles for a photo. Khenissi said the community has many ways to raise awareness of relief in Syria.

Radhia Khenissi is a student studying psychology at Columbia College. Her hometown is Tunis, Tunisia.

Isn’t it amazing how things that are meant to be work themselves out?

That, my friends, is something that I will never get used to. What started out as something small within a school organization turned itself into a combination of two amazing experiences.

On the weekend of June 21 five friends and I held a fundraising event for Syria Relief and Development in Columbia. In having this event, we hoped to increase awareness and funds in order to aid the people who are uprising against the current crisis which is still hitting the nation hard, if not harder now. The weekend of the event, we raised a modest amount of $23,000.

What did we do? A group of six people — four undergrad students, one grad student and a dental hygienist — connected to plan for an event that has never been brought to Columbia before.

For a few years, friends and I have been itching to see Syrian-American Hip Hop artist Omar Offendum perform live. There were times when he’d be close to Columbia, but time didn’t permit us to make the drive to where he was performing. Similarly, my sister and I have been longing to do something to help Syrians who have been undergoing a great deal of suffering under the dictatorship of Bashar Al-Assad. For the last two and a half years, Assad's forces and rebel fighters have been battling for control of Syria.

None of us have had experience in planning large-scale events, let alone a benefit that is meant to raise funds to help those in need. So, we kind of worked backwards to get to where we wanted to be. But as Ernest Hemingway once said, “Courage is grace under pressure.”

We started off by getting in contact with what would end up being the highest expense for the group — Omar Offendum. Thankfully, he was not only available to perform the weekend of the event, but he was humble enough to make our lives easier by cutting our costs a bit. (Columbia, we need to bring this man back.)

After completing the task of getting what was undoubtedly the main attraction of the benefit, we began shopping for hotels for our guest’s stay, looking for a venue to host us and for places that would cater refreshments; all while having $0 in our budget. Sounds really cool, right?

Thankfully a friend told me about a man named Dr. Jihad Qaddour who works with Syrian relief efforts. After getting in touch with a friend from the area I received his information. In just 48 hours — interspersed with frantic emails, texts and phone calls to potential donors — we were able to get all of our expenses covered, all thanks to Dr. Qaddour, co-founder of Syria Relief & Development (SRD) who helped us secure funds.

SRD is a relief organization based two hours away from Columbia. It’s an organization which aims to provide crisis humanitarian relief and plant seeds of sustainable development for the people of Syria through providing medical aid for the injured and giving standard and winter care packages filled with essential items to help families in need. After talking with Dr. Qaddour in his home days after the benefit, I found that there is so much more to what he and the organization do; the work he does is truly inspiring, and he left me full of inspiration.

There is so much we all can do as individuals and as a community to help. In regards to what’s happening in Syria now, it’s hard to say what the Syrian people want because we aren’t there, we aren’t experiencing what they’re living. Although I have no direct affiliation with Syria, I am human, just like you. Do your part as a humanitarian: educate yourself, raise awareness around you and most importantly, give: www.syriareliefanddevelopment.org

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.


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