By Travelin’ Kait
Global traveler, citizen of the world and avid volunteer who has (so far) visited more than 60 countries on six continents. She is also co-founder of Kids Unite 4 Hope, inspired by her time volunteering at a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey.
| For one month we volunteered with the Syrian refugees in Bodrum, Turkey who were getting ready to cross the Aegean Sea to reach Greece. It was the most life-changing time of our lives and was the experience that inspired us to create a charity called Kids Unite 4 Hope. When we heard the news about the little boy named Aylan Kurdi who was found on a beach in Bodrum, one of our favorite cities in the world, we decided to go down there ourselves and see how we could help the refugees.
There are 4 million Syrian refugees outside of the country, 2 million of which are in Turkey, and 7.6 million internally displaced. The war just entered its fifth year, so far claiming the lives of around 250,000 civilians. Many families who are trying to reach Europe from Turkey go to Bodrum to cross over to Kos Island, which is only 24 kilometers across the water.
We began raising money through a Go Fund Me page and set up an official charity called Kids Unite 4 Syria to help all the families that were trying to reach the EU. We spent most of our time walking around the streets of Bodrum where we met families living on the streets in need of basic supplies. We would buy everything at a big supermarket nearby and hand the items out. We provided a variation of supplies such as diapers, strollers, food, drinks, toys, and clothes for the children.
When we met families, we would play with the kids, hold their babies, and get to know them as people. We loved spending time with them and we usually got their contacts on WhatsApp or Facebook – we now can say we have a Syrian family!
When we spoke to the refugees, heard their stories, and saw the hope in their eyes of a better future, my heart was changed. These experiences reminded me of how much I have and take for granted in my life. Every time I met a new family, my heart broke a little as I saw the pain alive in their hearts and heard their stories of their treacherous journeys and escapes. The majority of the people we met were open and kind to us since they realized immediately we wanted to care for them and help them.
These families traveling to Europe have only what they can carry on their backs and have to sleep in parks, parking lots, or any place they can find. Yet through all of the suffering, first in Syria and now as refugees, they still found a way to greet us with a smile and open their hearts to us. Even though they had so little, they were still hospitable and willing to share – even giving us gifts for caring for them.
The most rewarding experience was when they would tell us that they didn’t need anything except to be treated with some love, respect and kindness. We were also told that we had restored their faith in humanity. After enduring all that pain and suffering, they saw a glimpse of hope again by meeting us and seeing how determined we were to help.
It is so hard to see how much they have gone through and how poorly they are being treated in some of the countries they are fleeing to. The Syrian people have already gone through so much already, I wish the rest of the world could realize that they are all people just like us and should be respected and loved like anybody else.
We learned so much about the world and how we can make an impact on it. We realized how every single person has dreams and hopes, no matter what country they are from. They are just human beings in need of love and compassion, searching for happiness and dreaming of a hopeful future for their children. I can honestly say that this one month in Turkey changed me so much and made me realize so many things I never would have known without this experience.
My wish for all people around the world is that the refugees could be looked on with eyes of mercy and compassion. They have been through unimaginable things and are only hoping for a brighter future. I hope one day the world can come together to realize that behind the label ‘refugee’ are people who just want to be treated with respect and love.
About the Author
Hi! I’m Kaitlin and I love to travel, write, and volunteer. I am 17 years old and have been traveling my entire life with my family. I was born in Amsterdam and also lived in Los Angeles, Dusseldorf, Paris, and Rome all by the time I was seven. For the next seven years, I lived in Venice, Italy – yet in 2013, we went back on the road for an open-ended journey to see the world. So far we have visited more than 60 countries on six continents with no end in sight! My greatest joy is meeting and helping others as we travel and sharing their stories through my writing – opening hearts and minds to the realities and amazing people of the world. Inspired to give back, I started my own charity to help kids around the word, Kids Unite 4 Hope. Learn more here.