School for Syrian Refugee Children

$16,664 of $25,000 goal

Raised by 148 people in 27 months
Joseph O'Neill
on behalf of Rivka Galchen
Hello, all. I'm going to keep this as brief as possible. But it will take a moment to read.   What it boils down to is this: I've helped set up a school for Syrian refugee children in Turkey.  The school is called the Maya School. The project has gone well.  The school is up and running.  The students love it.  I need your help to  keep it going. 

So here's the longer version.  

It's no secret that almost three million refugees from the Syrian war are now in Turkey.  Yes, three million. About 350,000 have been accommodated in camps, and the rest have scattered around the country. Turkey has been extraordinarily generous. International organizations are doing their bit.  This is our chance, here in America, to chip in.

Just over a century ago, my grandfather fled Aleppo as a child refugee and ended up in Mersin, in southeast Turkey, where he was able to make a new life. Last spring (2016), my Turkish mother, and my father and sister, decided to help Syrian refugee children who were camped near Mersin, which is not far from the Syrian border.

Here's a picture of where the refugee families live.  

After a fundraising effort in England, my parents and my sister went to Turkey with the proceeds (aroudn $5,000).  There, they (1) met with the local parties and took their advice as to exactly what was  needed; (2) bought provisions from Turkish shops at cost price (the Turkish shopkeepers refused to profit from the refugees); and (3) personally assembled and delivered to the Syrian children over 300 parcels containing educational materials plus a baseball cap. The children were overjoyed. My family was also able to donate money towards the purchase of Finnish maternity boxes for new or soon-to-be mothers in the camp.

Those are my parents, on the left, with Turkish counterparts.  Their names are Caroline and Kevin O'Neill. The boys are my nephews.  That van is filled with good stuff for the refugee kids.

During their visit, my parents met some remarkable people (doctors, academics, local businesspeople, community leaders) who had just set up a summer school for the refugee children a few miles east of Mersin.  My parents made a donation.  The school got started.

That's when I became involved.  I sent out emails to friends here in New York.  I asked for donations to support the summer school.  My friends were amazingly generous.  I raised almost $16,000, which was more than I'd dreamed I get.  It turns out that Americans are desperate to help Syrian children.

In August 2016, I went with my family to Turkey.  You'll recall that this was shortly after the attempted coup, and the country was in the grip of a political crackdown by the government.  

We met the people running the summer school and traveled to the refugee camp, which is situated near a small town called Adanalioglu.  Here are some pictures. 

These kids are amazing.  Kids are.

Here's my oldest son having fun with the guys and girls.

That baby?  That baby is two weeks old.

Now check out these guys:

From L to R: Ulas, Ful, Suleyman. These are three of our Turkish friends who are making the school actually happen.  Ulas is professor of political science; Ful is the head of the Mersin doctors' association (involved in providing medical services for the refugees); and Suleyman is an interpreter.  He speaks Arabic, which is the language of the refugees.

The founder of our project is not in the photo.  In the summer, she (I won't name her) lost her position as university professor. She  was forced to take a job elsewhere.  The situation in Turkey is volatile. 

To be clear: this project is apolitical.  We are  concerned only with giving the refugee children a basic scholastic experience.  Everyone deserves an education.  All relevant authorities, religions, and ideologies--Turkish, American, Christian, Muslim, left wing and right wing--agree on this.  

But let's get back to our story.  This project started as a summer school. The plan was to open a permanent school, too--the Maya School.   So after the visit to the camp, we visited the facility. We were astonished. Take a look at this: 

We had enjoyed an enormous stroke of luck and generosity: this municipal building was vacant, and the local people were prepared to allocate part of it to the refugee school.  For free.  

This the schoolyard--and those are our kids, playing there last fall.  Heaven.

And here are the kids in their other favorite spot:

As you can see, it's a small operation for the time being, with enrolment limited to under 20.  We provide the students with a school bus.  We focus on teaching Turkish, so they can adapt to their new environment. But we need to build it up.  Note that some of the students are not refugees but are the children of nomadic farm workers. They also love the chance to get an education.

Winter came and went. The school thrived, even as historically bad flooding inundated the camp.  

But life goes on.  Last month, our students began to study agriculture  in the school's new garden.  Check out the pictures in Maya's new Facebook page!

So where do we stand?  How can you help?

Where we stand: we have set up a transparent and cost-effective partnership with Turkish counterparts of great integrity and knowhow.  Of the $16,000 we raised last year, $3000 still remains.  That tells you how far your dollars will go.  This project is a model of effective philanthropy. It also serves children who have simply been missed by the organizations that have helped in this area.  See this, for an overview:

You may be wondering who I am.  My name is Joseph O'Neill, and I'm a writer, a college professor, and a former lawyer.  

We pledge to continue update all donors on how the school is doing.  Should the school for any reason shut down--and the situation is volatile, as we have noted--we will contact you and make a joint decision about where to allocate any unspent funds.  But our strong hope is that this school will keep going.

That's where you come in.  Our government has turned its back on these young victims of war.   But the American people have not.  The Maya School is down to its last $3000.  Help is urgently needed.  Please donate.  Please spread the word on social media.

Here they are, one last time, the rascals:

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Hello all. I'm delighted to say that the most recent fundraising round--to help the Maya School to restart, relocate, and refurbish its new home--has been a complete success, thanks to your wonderful generosity. Thank you so much.

Note that all your contributions--whether to GoFundMe, or The Center for Fiction donation page, or my by check to me--are received on behalf of The Center for Fiction, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, and are tax-deductible as appropriate. Please feel free to donate again, but also feel free to turn your benevolent attentions elsewhere for the time being.

All being well, I will report back before long with pictures of the school in its new home! Happy new year to all.
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Hello, all. I'm delighted to announce that the Maya School for Syrian refugee children is back.
As you may recall, a couple of months ago the Turkish authorities shut down the school by withdrawing permission for the School to remain in its municipal building. Since then, the refugee children have been without educational-recreational facilities.
Well, we have a new place. Our indomitable and persistent Turkish counterparts have rented a commercial space in a nearby village for $2,000 a year. Teachers and volunteers have been lined up. The immediate challenge is to transform our unprepossessing premises into two classrooms and a small common area. We're starting from scratch. Plumbing, electricity, tiling, new walls, a lavatory, an a/c etc all have to be built and installed. The budget is $5,000, a very reasonable sum.
You'll see from the attached picture how much work must be done. But this will be a place these children will remember with happiness forever.
American donors--i.e., you and your friends--have provided the vast majority of the financial support for the school. We're asking for your help again. Can we raise the $5,000 Maya needs as a Christmas present? Any amount would be welcome!
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Hello, all. This evening I received some bad news from Turkey. The Maya School has been abruptly shut down until further notice by the Turkish authorities. It seems that all educational activities not authorized by the Ministry of Education are now forbidden. It may take some time for the situation to become clearer, and we are still exploring our options.

It follows that this fundraising campaign is suspended for the time being, and no further donations will be accepted. Donations that were received after August of this year have not yet been drawn down and will be reimbursed to the donors or, if the donors so direct, will be applied to an alternative charity in support of Syrian refugees. Donations through August 2017 have, as I've previously reported, been transmitted to the Maya School. I will make inquiries about the sums in question and report back.

As I mentioned in my first post, the situation in Turkey is politically volatile and this turn of events was always a possibility. Nonetheless, this comes as a very bad blow for the students at the school, and also for the teachers and organizers who have put so much work into this project. The good news is that our Turkish counterparts are determined and resourceful, and some happy mutation of the project may yet occur. Let's wait and see--and watch this space for an update.
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Hello, everyone. Last week I visited the Maya School with family. I am delighted to confirm that, in spite of the volatile and politically challenging environment, the School and its kids are doing very well. Its work would *not have been possible* without you--the American supporters who have provided the vast bulk of the School's funding. So--thank you for your wonderful and extraordinarily effective donations.

One important piece of good news: your donations, past and future, are now tax-deductible. This is because the Center for Fiction, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, has very kindly agreed to accept final receipt of the sums raised as part of their Kids Read program, and to transmit the sums to the Maya School in Turkey, which itself is now an officially registered charity.

Here's a picture of the classroom that I attended, with some of the students, teachers, and volunteers who make this school work. What a happy place this is.

One thing that was brought home to me was that the school does not simply provide an essential pedagogic experience. It also gives the kids a taste of a normal childhood and of the special, particularized attention and love that is a young person's human right. Being taught, being cared for, instills in these children the belief that, in spite of everything, they are persons of value.

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Blake Ferrell
26 months ago

Are there other schools close to Fethiye? I know several families here with many Children

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$16,664 of $25,000 goal

Raised by 148 people in 27 months
Created April 11, 2017
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Blake Ferrell
26 months ago

Are there other schools close to Fethiye? I know several families here with many Children

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