“Will sending the Syrian refugee kids your cheerful pictures make them happy?” — This was one of the first questions that were thrown Pooja Pradeep’s way, when she embarked on bridging gaps and spreading smiles through Letters of Love in 2015. The 24-year-old educationist is not just a vivacious woman who loves being around children, she believes that they are the change-makers we need.
As the media covers the Syrian refugee crisis and its repercussions on the displaced, this social worker was so moved after learning their stories that she couldn’t simply sit still.
“In October 2015, following Humans of New York’s coverage of Syrian refugee crisis affected me beyond extent,” she said, speaking to indianexpress.com. That was when she decided to “make a connect”, especially with the children there. “The first day itself, I sent approximately 540 mails to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to the UNESCO and UNICEF parent organisations and the offices in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey,” said Pradeep.
Her husband Rushil Nori, a part of the Indian delegation at Seeds of Peace programme as a student in 2003, helped her connect with people working in the conflict zones and in a week, she heard back from Jennifer Roberts, the education officer at the UNHCR, who guaranteed that her letters will reach the refugee children. Today, Letters of Love is a global initiative guided by the UNHCR office in Gaziantep, Turkey.
“The idea was simple — to send a colourful picture and a simple, warm message on a handwritten letter on New Year,” explained Pradeep, who is also involved devotedly in the cause of women empowerment. And to the ones who wondered how will sending happy pictures to ‘children of war’ help, Pradeep had just the answer. She understood that the affected children were in fact “resilient” and would love anything that would connect them with the rest of the world.
Indeed, the response she got to her letters was heartwarming. Pradeep and her team (now 30 members across 10 countries), were in return, greeted with beautiful faces beaming with smiles as they held the cards. “The children weren’t crying, nor were they sad, unlike what’s largely shown in the media. Their happiness was contagious,” said the Mumbai resident.
So much so, while Letters of Love had sent about 1,200 letters to Syrian refugee kids in 2016, this New Year, letters were hand-written in Arabic and sent to about 15,000 children, Pradeep said. Because now, even Iraqi and Yazidi children in the Middle East were waiting.
In class, Pradeep inculcates the Ignatius Pedagogical Paradigm teaching methodology that is based on learning through experience, reflection and action. She emphasises on empathy as a core value to be imbibed in children at schools. This VIT University mechanical engineering pass-out, who is an teacher by choice, does her bit to imbibe values of gender equality in the children’s minds too. while conducting critical thinking and empathy inspiring workshops for schoolchildren. “It all roots down to education,” Pradeep asserted repeatedly.
All of us saw the heartbreaking graphics of little Alan Kurdi washed ashore and a stunned Omran Daqneesh sitting in a truck, his hair matted with rubble. We were crestfallen, even stumped for quite some time, before a lot of us got caught in the warp of our routine, again. Who would have thought that a hand-written letter from miles afar was probably all it took for the many Alan Kurdi and Omran Daqneesh to smile?