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How Teenagers in the Bay Area Are Aiding in the Syrian Refugee Crisis

International Action, or better known as Interact, is a sub-branch of the esteemed Rotary International. This high school sub-branch includes thousands of students, all across the world, dedicated to service and the mantra “Service Above Self”. Interact District 5170, the largest Interact District in the world with over 6,000 members, teams up for a special community and international projects every year. This year the international project focused on one of the most pressing humanitarian issues of this age: the Syrian refugee crisis.

Me the Human, the project led by International Coordinator Misaki Otani, is designed to provide sustainable service to the Syrian refugees. The name derives from the characteristic that ties these teenagers and refugees together: the fact that they are both humans.

Through events and fundraisers such as charity dinners, selling of merchandise, galas, auctions, and benefit shows, the project has raised a whopping $120,000 for the cause. Through a partnership with the International Rescue Committee, this money will provide services such as healthcare, emergency relief, clothing, protection, safety relief, education, and counseling to refugees worldwide.

I had the chance to discuss the project with Misaki Otani who took on the task of choosing and running the project.

What made you want to tackle the Syrian Refugee crisis for the International Project?

“It’s always a bit hard for me to explain why I chose this specific humanitarian issue to focus on because my motivation is generated from what I feel. When I see and learn about what refugees go through, it makes me feel extremely upset and confused because here you have a group of people who had their homes, families, and opportunities taken away from them as a result of war. As I did more research I kept on asking myself the question of “why?” Why is this happening? Why isn’t anyone paying attention to this?”

How has your experience been with this project?

“My experience with ‘Me The Human’ has been impossible to forget. It has been an emotional rollercoaster but it’s because of those emotions that made me want to empower change on the international stage.”

What advice would you give to teenagers who also want to assist in the situation?

“Educate yourselves first! Education is extremely important because it’s the tool to help you analyze situations efficiently and foster solutions that will be implemented effectively. Next is to take action. Serve with local organizations to help refugees that are already living in your area. If you aren’t in an area that participates in this, you can hold fundraisers and events that raise money for organizations that focus on aiding refugees. Speak out to your communities about this issue, hold speaker events to educate others, and overall never settle. It’s pretty hard to get people to care about something that doesn’t affect them directly, and I’ve learned that we can’t change people, but we can inspire them to change.  Slowly but surely we can help the Syrian refugees rebuild their homes and their lives.”

Maybe the most miraculous part of this project, this organization, is that it is run by teenagers, teenagers who are passionate about helping others and service. If you are passionate about service, humanity or the Syrian refugee crisis get involved with Interact!

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Sameera Khan
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Sameera Khan is a 17-year-old Muslim, Pakistani-American living in California. She is passionate about education reform and race relations. Check out her Arts + Culture articles here:


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