When Brandon Stanton posted the photos of Syrian refugees on the Humans of New York page, the whole world was stunned. That included Pooja Pradeep. The 24-year-old was so moved that she decided to do her bit — by starting an initiative called Letters of Love, through which people around the world could send postcards with messages of love and hope to refugee children in Turkey. Supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), she aims to send postcards to 10,000 children on New Year's Day 2017.
Pooja, a mechanical engineer turned history educator, describes how the project began very "randomly". She recounts, "I was very disturbed after seeing the HONY posts. I thought of the postcard initiative and sent out around 500 emails in a day, to which I got a single reply. That was a UNHCR official, who put me in touch with UNHCR Turkey. They were ready to implement it in their refugee centres."
Here's how it works: Anyone who wishes to send a message to a refugee child can visit their Facebook page and post their message with a photograph. The message is then translated to Syrian Arabic by their resident translator Amna Niaz, printed on a postcard with the photograph, and then despatched to a child.
The aim of the project is to brighten a child's day, according to Pooja. "Most of the children in these camps have no hope left. They are subjected to hostility from the beginning. I think small initiatives like ours actually do make a difference," she says. For New Year's Day 2016, they'd sent 1,500 postcards to these children. This year, more refugee centres have been in touch with Pooja, since she decided to increase the number of letters.
Hang on, why not send them stuff they actually can use instead of letters? Pooja's got the perfect answer. "The cost of logistics would be very high to send resources. I could potentially send supplies to a maximum of hundred children in that case. Moreover, the UNHCR has advised us that a message with a person’s face would create more of a difference," she explains. Not many people are convinced easily, though. "People would ask why I wasn’t sending money. So I would in turn ask them why they weren’t doing that. If anyone has a better plan, I'm all ears," she says.
Through letters, Pooja and her friends are also aiming to sensitise children about the deepening crisis. "We hold sessions in schools and raise a lot of awareness and after the session, when we ask children if they would like to write a letter, they're all very excited," she says. Pooja had planned to visit Turkey in 2017, but her friends in the UNHCR had asked her to refrain from going until the situation stabilised. Till then, there'll be little letters of love.
Reach Out: facebook.com/lettersoflove2017