Log In

Reset Password

Refugees are 'everyday people - just like us'

Michel Alkhouri sits down in front of a group of Awapuni School students and shares a story about calling his mum on the phone.

When she answers, he can hear bombs going off in the background.

“Are you OK Mum?” he asks.

“Yes, yes I’m OK,” she says.

But in his Wellington home, Mr Alkhouri knows his mother is sitting in a war zone,his old family home in Aleppo where he grew up — Syria’s largest city before the start of the civil war that has continued for the past seven years.

The country is under attack in a multi-sided internal conflict that has caused a major refugee crisis. The pre-war 22-million population has halved as families flee the violence.

Being able to share personal stories helps everyone remember refugees are everyday people just like us.

Mr Alkhouri and his wife Michelle Carlile-Alkhouri have two children and created Make Foundation — a charity inspired by a song their daughter Naia wrote for her grandmother in Aleppo while it was under siege.

The foundation raises funds to bring music, art and technology projects to displaced Syrian children in Lebanon.

As Michel explained to the Awapuni students — when you flee your country, you can’t take anything with you.

The arts, and other creative activities can bring colour to the lives of children who have been impacted by the conflict first hand.

The other thing the foundation does is build empathy and understanding among people who have no idea what it is like to go through the refugee experience, he said.

The Make Foundation has donated five books to the HB Williams Memorial Library.

Bring your tissues, was some of the advice for when you sit down to read them.

They are the beautifully realistic but sad descriptions of life as a refugee through children’s eyes.

Make Foundation treasurer Louise Carlile lives in Gisborne, a sister to Michelle.

Ms Carlile said when she read the stories it was no longer “just an item on the news I could switch off”.

“People in Syria were living their daily lives, they’re just like us. Then overnight, life completely changed for them.”

There is an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon — more than 25 percent of the local population. Most have no legal status, which presents barriers to work, and access to services like education and healthcare.

There are no formal camps. Most Syrian refugees live in crowded apartments in very challenging circumstances. Around half of the displaced people are children.

To make a donation log on to http://www.makefoundation.org

Sharing stories: Make Foundation treasurer Louise Carlile and her brother-in-law Michel Alkhouri spoke to Awapuni School’s Rooms 2 and 3 about how refugees are just like them. The Make Foundation, started by the Alkhouri family, provides arts and crafts to Syrian children who have had to flee their homes because of war. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell