Interview with From Syria With Love founder, Baraa Ehssan Kouja
Baraa Ehssan Kouja founded the charity From Syria With Love in 2014 to share the stories of refugee children, particularly those displaced by the war in Syria. May is Share a Story Month, the perfect time to consider the importance of storytelling to charitable organisations, and the unique ways charities like From Syria With Love use storytelling to raise awareness and increase understanding. Baraa’s aim in setting up From Syria With Love was partly to raise money but primarily to raise awareness about the refugee crisis. It has been a resounding success. In a touring exhibition, From Syria With Love displays the artwork of Syrian children living in refugee camps. The exhibition has so far visited the UK, France, Germany and the US. Combined with a presentation on the situation in Syria and a book of the same name, From Syria With Love has raised £35,000 so far, and Baraa has spoken in front of more than 5000 people. A Syrian himself, Baraa was the co-founder and CEO of a charity kitchen for internally displaced people in his hometown of Aleppo. He came to the UK to study for an MSc at Exeter University in 2014. Finding himself unable to return to Syria, he sought asylum in the UK. I spoke to Baraa about From Syria With Love, the importance of sharing stories, and what we can all do to help solve the continuing crisis in Syria.
From Syria With Love is more than a simple fundraising charity. What inspired you to incorporate art and human stories?
From Syria With Love’s main concern is to raise awareness through different activities.
- Art Exhibition:
An exhibition of drawings done by children living in refugee camps, showing the drama and tragedy these children have gone through. “Eye opening and insightful” is one comment from the substantial positive feedback we have had. We were also recently invited to exhibit at Harvard university.
2. Informative presentation:
A 20 minute interactive workshop with local community/students, which involves:
- General knowledge check for audience.
- Stereotypes/myths about refugees.
- Opinions on how to tackle/respond to the humanitarian crisis.
A 40 minute talk, including:
- Introduction to Syria’s history; diversity in cultures, religions, ethnicity of the people.
- Reasons behind the war in Syria, providing deeper understanding of current global politics.
- Events that took place inside Syria, untold stories and the global humanitarian refugee crisis.
- Suggestions on how can we help, why should we help and how to make a difference.
- Personal experience of the speaker.
- Short documentary about children living in refugee camps followed by Q&A.
I have done this presentation to over 5000 people across local community venues, universities, colleges and schools.
A collection of stories and voices from the refugee camps (translated into English) written by the Syrian children; talking about their past, present, future, dreams and feelings. The book has been very well received. We sold out of the first 1000 copies in just four months.
The idea behind these activities is to relate and connect people to each other. Art and childhood are universal languages, and don’t need interpretation nor borders to be understood. A piece of art created by a child in Syria wouldn’t be so different to one created by a child in Uganda or France.
Why do you think sharing stories is so important for solving human crises?
When people can relate to each other as individuals, not as numbers, and are educated about crises from normal people, not the media; that’s when we fight xenophobia and hatred with compassion and understanding.
If you could suggest one thing for the general public to do to provide support to victims of the war in Syria, what would it be?
One thing I think people must do is to educate themselves, spread awareness and realise all the lies politicians sell us are causing more division. Syrian people require the immediate halt of other nations’ involvement‒ such as the external arms trade and bombing from the UK, NATO, Russia, USA, Turkey and Saudi Arabia‒ more than they need empathy, sympathy or a food basket.
Do you have any upcoming events?
We have two upcoming events.
One in London in ExCeL on the 10th and 11th May:
And one in Brighton on the 16th May: