His brown eyes glistened with determination as he looked over his team.
“So guys, today we’ll be talking about micro loans and how we can use them to help the refugees,” said Muneer Barakat, 20, as he waved his hand over to the video blown up on the screen in the D.H. Hill presentation room.
He tapped the mouse on a black Toshiba laptop and began to play the video. He took a seat, but only briefly, before standing back up to pause and explain the business terminology within the video.
“I really think that – if we can raise enough money – we could give these loans out to the refugees and help them build some kind of business or something,” he said, concluding his explanation, and eagerly looking for feedback from his team. “So what do you all think?”
Barakat is the vice president and cofounder of a new student organization on campus, Arab Aid Aimed. In this meeting, Barakat was providing his team with information on ways to utilize the money from their fundraising events. The small group hopes to bring aid to refugees in the Middle East, starting with those from Syria.
“Our main goal is to help the Syrian refugees, all over, wherever we can, but for now we’re going to start in Turkey,” he said about the purpose of the organization. “(We want) to support them in earning their own life by helping them start new businesses, especially knowing that the Syrians in general have a long history of entrepreneurial mentality.”
Barakat is a junior at North Carolina State University who is majoring in business after having transferred last year from Wake Technical Community College. His knowledge of business is what has helped him begin this non-profit organization with his cousin Nora Barakat who is also a student at N.C. State.
The two of them felt compelled to help the families that were left with no other option but to leave their lives behind in Syria, the country torn apart by civil war since 2011 and the Barakat family’s home country.
Although Barakat was born in Kuwait, his family returned to live in Syria for 12 years from the time he was 3 years old.
“My favorite memory from Syria…”
He cocked his head and hummed, sifting through all the memories in his head for a couple minutes.
“My friends and my family. So on Friday’s (my family) gets together. Typical Friday, we wake up early in the morning, we have breakfast all together. Um, it’s a lot of homemade food – and then after that we go to Friday prayer (the afternoon prayer held on the Muslim holy day) at the mosque, and then we visit family members – cousins, aunts. At night I’d hang out with my friends. I had more freedom in Syria, as a child. It was safe for like, a 10-year-old kid to walk at night by himself, or basically go anywhere he wants.”
In 2009, his family moved to America after his uncle Namee Barakat managed to get them a set of green cards. Barakat, his mother, father, and his grandmother packed up and moved to the U.S. with hopes of better opportunities.
Barakat’s brother was already enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but his sister was left in Syria because she was unable to obtain her green card due to her age.
In 2011, news of the civil war in Syria erupted. Barakat was 17 at the time.
“I didn’t expect it to happen in Syria,” he said. “I thought because the president was educated in a different country – he was studying in Britain – I did not expect a violent response from him. I was expecting a more uh, liberal – or like, maybe he would try to stay in his position, but wouldn’t hold on it, like, too hard.”
Barakat became obsessed with the news from Syria. His family there was forced to relocate to safer areas, and he lost some of his cousins in the war.
When the war first broke out, he was happy that the citizens were “fighting back oppression,” but as the number of violent conflicts grew, sadness overwhelmed him.
He recalled watching videos of the violence being unleashed on citizens in familiar places, calling the acts “very un-human.”
“It really builds a fear inside of you, which is really what the government’s trying to do,” he explained as he looked away, contorting his face. Eventually, his depression brought him to stop watching the videos, and he could no longer bear to talk about the war.
But he knew he always wanted to help people. When he started college that was the one thing he was sure he wanted to do.
Barakat still avoids details of the war and the news about it, and he dislikes watching any videos showing the violence, but he chooses to focus on the displaced families and what he can do to help them.
“I want to help them establish a better life and maybe one day return back to Syria with more experience than what they had inside of Syria, or have a foundation to start a new life inside of Syria. Or if they wanted to stay in a different country. Anything that will help them have a better life.”
This is a sample of the article. For the full article, please feel free to contact me.
© Karina Gomez, 2015