In June 2019, Project Turquoise Youth Committee traveled to Lebanon for a service exchange experience. In partnership with nonprofit Art of Hope, which focusses on the mental health of displaced people, and NGO MAPS (Mulit Aid Programs), which provides much needed services to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the weeklong mindfulness camp gave the PT Youth Committee and Syrian youth a chance to collaborate on health, mindfulness, hopes, and dreams for their future.
In Jordan’s Azraq and Za’atari Syrian refugee camps, nearly 90% of all residents suffer from cavities or other oral health complications.
In September 2017, the Project Turquoise team and five general dentists and specialists from the Washington, DC area, joined a week-long dental mission, treating patients in both camps. We were delighted to be among this team providing oral surgical care to those in need.
Thanks to the Relief International’s partnership with international Medical Corps (IMC) and the Arabian Medical Corps (AMC) in Jordan, the Project Turquoise team, together with the Jordanian volunteer dentists, were able to to successfully treat over 650 patients on this inagural service trip.
A group of teens from DC area high schools, part of a nonprofit called Project Turquoise (PT), traveled to Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan during the summer of 2018. They had spent the previous year raising awareness of the refugee crisis amongst their peers; and had raised funds, through 5K runs and movie screenings, to provide sports equipment and shoes for kids at Zaatari. They planned projects they would do with their Syrian friends, from science experiments to sports to photography – but were likely not prepared for the overwhelming impact that these few days together would have on them. The kids formed strong bonds – painting a massive mural together with Project Turquoise emblazoned in bright yellow; learning words and expressions in each other’s language; singing “We Are the Champions” together; playing endless soccer games in the blazing June sun; simply being, teenage kids. Their last day, they went on a hike; for many of the Syrian teens it was the first time they had seen trees in years, and they would stop to take pictures. The kids took selfies, exchanged WhatsApp numbers and small gifts, and the boys, hand in hand, did the traditional Syrian dabke dance, as Arabic music played from their phones. When it was time to say goodbye, the hugs were long, the emotions ran deep, and the tears flowed freely. One of the PT teens summed it up this way, “You expect them to be different, but in so many ways they are so similar to you. The kindness and grace and dignity they show you is amazing; I can’t even believe that people who have lost so much can still smile so much.”
The Project Turquoise kids were determined not to let the few days with their friends at Zaatari refugee camp be the end of this story. They decided to raise funds for college scholarships for their new friends; and as soon as they got back to DC, got busy planning fundraisers. The kids at Zaatari took their tawjihi college entrance exams, submitted applications, and poured their dreams into heartfelt essays. Four Syrian teens, two boys and two girls, were selected, with EdSeed, an organization that facilitates scholarships for refugee students, overseeing the process. The essays the Syrian teens submitted provide a brief glimpse into their courage, tenacity, resilience, and character. One shared that he wants to study nursing because he “wants to feel good about healing others”; and that if he were to graduate from college, he would be the first person in his family to do so. Another wrote that in Syria he had nine close friends and they had pledged to be friends for life. But two drowned while attempting to escape to Europe, three died of cancer, four were involved in a car accident, himself included, and only he survived. “I would like to fulfill this dream for all of us, in their honor,” this 18 year old hero wrote. Another has been living at Zaatari for seven years and talked about the harsh conditions, like continuous power outages, which makes studying difficult. She said her mother is her source of strength and wants to honor her sacrifices by studying hard, becoming a pharmacist, and becoming “the master of my own destiny.” Another shared her dream of becoming a computer engineer and her love for Tae kwon do and photography. “Education is potent weapon in the hands of women; once educated nobody can stop our dream,” she wrote.
Over Thanksgiving 2019, our Project Turquoise (PT) kids got a chance to Skype with their four Syrian friends who had started college on the scholarships. On a large screen, images popped up, in 9 boxes (like the Brady Bunch ) of the four Syrian teens at Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan; of three EdSeed organizers in different US cities; of our group of 25 or so PT kids and parents sitting in a room in Virginia; and one PT member who had to head back to college as a snow storm was approaching, but managed to get a connection on his phone as he trudged through a blizzard, bundled in layers of hats and scarves, snow filling the bottom right corner of our screen. Technology is incredible. The kids exchanged news, asked about their other Zaatari friends, and about their experiences at college and their favorite subjects. Zayd asked his friend Ziad, with whom he had played endless games of soccer at Zaatari, if he was playing in college and what position he plays. Ziad asked PT member Alex if he still speaks Arabic, and Alex responded in Arabic, to everyone’s excitement. PT teen Yassi shared with Dania that she too is studying chemistry and asked for tips as Dania is doing well in the subject. The Syrian teens shared how proud and supportive their parents are of them for starting college, despite the challenges of living in a refugee camp. Our PT kids suggested setting up a WhatsApp group so they could tutor each other in subjects that they are each strong in. Then, Dania pulled a white kitten onto her lap and asked, “do you like cats??” Her cat’s name is Candy, and she’s 5 years and 26 days old. The kids melted in oohs and ahhs, and the story continues ….
Author: Salma Hasan Ali
Project Turquoise in partnership with edSeed, has committed to support 4 Syrian refugees who have graduated with honors. Once our youth committee showed desire, effort, and commitment to help the students they met and worked with at Camp Zaatari, PT worked diligently to find a partner to fulfill this effort. edSeed, a youth-focused venture philanthropy fund, invests in youth programs and startups; promoting education and innovation in disruptive technologies.
PT has worked closely with edSeed to go through a selection process of Syrian refugee high school students that applied to the edSeed program and showed commitment to education, academic excellence, and the pursuit of a life of independence and dignity. Four students have been selected and are now being sponsored by our fundraising efforts and edSeed’s scholarship program.
Meet our students:
Dania, Pharmacy school (class of 2024)
Dania has lived in Camp Zatarri for refugees in Jordan since 2012 with her mother and siblings. Her father did not leave Syria. She has been in school at the camp and has taken on activities supported by NOGs such as social impact plays, computer training, and remedial educational training.
In her words:
“We endured tremendous pain. We lost everything, our home, our livelihood, and our country. But we did not despair. With little but our selves to depend on, we felt that the best way for our country to rise again is for us to be educated so that we can rebuild it. I want to become a pharmacist.
I want to become a pharmacist. I want to be independent and to be the master of my own destiny. I can do that if I have a solid career.”
Inas; English Literature (class of 2024)
Inas has lived in Camp Zattari. She has not stopped going to school and has been active in activities offered by NGOs at the camps. She is a Tae Kwon Do champion, loves photography, and engineer. She is now interested in becoming an English major with focus on Psychology, Accounting, or Socialogy.
In her own words:
“ I believe that I have what it takes to be the strong and independent woman I dream of becoming if I continue my education. I want to rebuild my war ravaged country, Syria.
Higher education is a big dream for most girls . Yet to many, it is a dream so hard to achieve. This becomes more difficult when we are displaced because of war. To be a woman, a refugee, and to get to college is impossible. Most women give up their dream because of the challenges.
Obtaining this scholarship is my only hope. Without it I will never be able to go to college as a refugee and as a woman.
I hope you can help me be the woman I dream of becoming.”
Ziad, Accounting (class of 2024)
Ziad has lived in Camp Zaatari since 2012 with his family. When possible, he found time to go to school and not give up his dream of working with numbers. He has consistently scored high in math and is usually in the top 5 percentile. He is an avidsoccer player with 18 medals under his belt and an MVP goalie award. Ziad is well recognized for his artistic ability as well. Some of us on the 2018 youth service trip exchange have seen his drawings and paintings first hand. They are just amazing. He has volunteered to help paint murals around Camp Zaatari and was a major contributor of Project Turquoise mural at Camp Zaatari.
In his own words:
“I dream of becoming an accountant. I had 9 friends in Syria. We pledged to be friends for life and go to college together. Today I am the only one alive.
I want to be an accountant. I feel that there will always be work opportunities in this field. I am confident that I will excel because I am working in a field I like.
I have always believed in persevering to overcome challenges no matter how difficult life gets. My goals are ambitions, but I am fully determined to pursue my dreams to the end.
I really want to go to college. Please help me make my dream a reality.”
Ammar, Nursing School (class of 2024 )
Ammar has being living in Camp Zaatari with his family. One of his brothers passed the college entrance exam but could not attend due to lack of funding. Ammar ahs beeng attending school at the camp and working. His hard work and involvement in extra curriculum activities have been recognized.
In his own words:
“If I get a scholarship, I would like to study nursing. I want to feel good about healing others. I also feel that employment prospects in this profession are promising.
If I were to graduate college, I will be the first member of my family to hold a university degree. I would like to thank the sponsors for promoting a positive competitive attitude among candidates.”
Be sure to head over to edSeed to learn more about our partnership with them. We hope that you are moved after hearing from our scholarship recipients and will join us in helping them to fulfill their goal of receiving a higher education.
One of the major impacts Project Turquoise wants to make in our own local community is to help displaced families when it comes to their lack of dental care. So many people who live in the Metropolitan area do not have access to dental care and suffer from dental infection and pain as a result. With the help and partnership of centers such as Cornerstones in Reston, which helps people build more stable lives, we are able to serve this population and provide them some dental health support.
We decided to do a couple screenings at the Cornerstones shelter with our volunteers and found there to be many patients in need of dental care services. We met families from Afghanistan who are currently seeking asylum, and families from El Savador and Peru, all of whom are trying to build a new life in the United States. After meeting these people, we set up the mission at Pediatric Dentistry of Reston and Reston Family and Cosmetic Dentistry on Saturday, September 28th. An incredible team of dentists and specialists volunteered their time to come and help these patients. Without their commitment and service, our mission would not be possible. All supplies & costs were donated by dentists & dental vendors in the area.
Not only did our volunteers help us that day, but they are also committed to provide comprehensive treatment to a few patients who desperately need it. One 18-year-old man named Fasil was devastated to learn we need to extract one of his molars but knew it had to be done to alleviate his pain. Dentists on our team worked together to create a comprehensive care plan to save another molar by providing a free root canal and crown for him. This would be done on another day, as the oral surgeon was extracting infected permanent teeth on most of our patients, but Fasil was elated that we provided a solution to protect his teeth in the long-term. Although it is heartbreaking to extract any permanent teeth, we know this if often the only option since most could not afford dental care. Our pediatric dentists also worked with the younger patients. Many of the children were very nervous and had never seen a dentist before, but after learning more about the procedures, eventually let them treat the teeth that needed it the most and did amazing despite their initial apprehension!
We ended up providing over $35K worth of free dental services in that one day. Our team was inspired and our patients were so grateful. We hope to continue our vision to serve an immediate need in our community as well as abroad. For more information on our causes, please visit our website.
Project Turquoise raised over $100,000 in 2018 with our largest funds coming in via our fundraising event held in September 13, 2018 where we had Senator Mark Warner as our keynote speaker. Since then, our team of volunteers have worked diligently to ensure that we deliver supplies and services to families in need all over the world.
We are proud to report how the funds have impacted people globally:
Healthcare Support for Venezuelans displaced in Colombia and Venezuela in partnership with Project Hope – $42,726
Project Turquoise contributed $42,726 towards Project HOPE’s programs dealing with Venezuelans displaced in Colombia and Venezuela. We were able to:
- Hire 2 physicians (1 GP and and 1 OBGYN) for 6 months, to work from Jorge Cristo Sahium and HUEM hospitals.
- Hire 1 Nurse.
- Diagnose, treat, and provide necessary medications to 5,760 patients, mostly women and children.
- Deliver 156 healthy babies.
- Provide Health Education sessions to 1,850 expectant mothers.
- Donate medicines include: Acetaminophen, Ampicillin, Amoxicillin, Cephalexin, Ciprofloxacin, Diclofenac, Ibuprofen, and Naproxen.
- Contribute $17,100 in healthcare services and $25,752 in medicines and medical supplies.
Support of youth Syrian refugees in Lebanon – $10,000
Project Turquoise Youth Committee ventured to Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, located near the Syrian border, this past June 2019 for a different service exchange experience in order to continue working with Syrian refugees. In partnership with nonprofit Art of Hope, which focusses on the mental health of displaced people, and NGO MAPS (Mulit Aid Programs), which provides much needed services to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the weeklong mindfulness camp gave the PT Youth Committee and Syrian youth a chance to collaborate on health, mindfulness, hopes, and dreams for their future. The unique friendships they formed in such a short period of time shows the resilience and warmth that these kids possess. The exchange provided a much needed respite for the refugee youth who often struggle with a safe and welcoming haven to spend their days. Funds and laptops were donated to support the good work of MAPS and AOH, as well as t-shirts, friendship bracelets, books, journals, hugs, and hope for the Syrian youth. It is important to note that all volunteers travelling to this service trip paid for their own travel expenses in order to ensure funds raised by PT will be benefiting the beneficiaries directly.
Project Turquoise Education Fund (PTEF) – Support educational needs of 2 exceptionally strong Syrian refugees college funds- $34,000
Project Turquoise in partnership with EdSeed, will be supporting educational needs of a few Syrian refugees who graduated with honors. PT worked closely with EdSeed to go through a selection process of Syrian refugees high school students that applied to our program and showed commitment to education, academic excellence, and pursue of a life of independence and dignity. Look for more information on the status of this fund allocation in the coming weeks when our team completes its selection effort.
Project Turquoise Healthcare Program – Dental Support –Performed by our team of volunteers
Project Turquoise is thrilled to expand their local outreach with the growing support of our Project Turquoise volunteer dentists. The dental team had to two dental screenings for free dental work at Cornerstones in Reston on September 13th & on September 15th at Pars Place. A “Mission for Smiles” free dental mission is planned at Pediatric Dentistry of Reston on September 28th to help these families who face significant obstacles & do not have access to medical & dental care. If interested in getting involved or donating to our dental missions, please check out our website.
After a successful service trip to Jordan in June 2018 to Camp Za’atari with Relief International, the Project Turquoise Youth Committee ventured to Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley located near the Syrian border this past June 2019 for a different service exchange experience in order to continue working with Syrian refugees. In partnership with nonprofit Art of Hope, which focusses on the mental health of displaced people, and NGO MAPS (Mulit Aid Programs), which provides much needed services to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the weeklong mindfulness camp gave the PT Youth Committee and Syrian youth a chance to collaborate on health, mindfulness, hopes, and dreams for their future. The unique friendships they formed in such a short period of time shows the resilience and warmth that these kids possess. The exchange provided a much needed respite for the refugee youth who often struggle with a safe and welcoming haven to spend their days. Funds and laptops were donated to support the good work of MAPS and AOH, as well as t-shirts, friendship bracelets, books, journals, hugs, and hope for the Syrian youth. We are thankful to AOH and MAPS for their hospitality during our stay in Lebanon. We look forward to collaborating together in the future.
The PT Youth Committee is growing and we now have over 15 high schools represented in the DMV area! We continue to raise awareness in schools and our local community regarding the daily struggles refugees experience abroad. We remain committed to raising funds for educational programs, supplies, and scholarships for displaced people globally.
Stay tuned for our upcoming events this year, such as Busboys and Poets movie nights, International Human Rights Day fundraisers, and our 3rd annual 5K run in the Spring!
Project Turquoise, founded by Gazelle Hashemian and Forough P. Yazdani, prides itself on the mission to serve people in crises here in the United States and globally. As we all know, the Syrian Refugee Crises is one of the most horrific, humanitarian disasters in the world today. Thousands and thousands of innocent civilians have been violently and abruptly uprooted from their homeland and cast to a state of survival. To stay true to Project Turquoise’s mission, we decided that we needed to respond and help as many families as our bandwidth would allow. After much research, it was decided that we would concentrate our efforts on Camp Zaatari and Camp Azraq in Jordan, In the fall of 2016, an exploratory trip was organized by Project Turquoise in partnership with Relief International to assess where we could make the biggest impact. During this trip, it was determined that there was a dire need for oral health care especially for preventive and emergency services. There was a 80% caries rate amongst the youth and oral pain was prevalent and for the most part untreated in the adult population. The camp had a 2 month wait for dental appts and the wait was on average 4 hours. Once it was determined that the population was underserved in the deliverance of oral health care, the Project Turquoise Dental mission was born. During this trip, several meetings were arranged with the Minister of Health in Jordan and leaders of partnering NGO’s in the camp.
In the Fall of 2017, a group of dentists from the Washington DC area, including general dentists, endodontists, a pediatric dentist and oral surgeon travelled to Jordan for the first ever PT Dental Service Trip. The group lead by Dr. Neda Kalantar and Dr. Forough Yazdani and accompanied by other dentists: Dr. Rashin Bidgoli, Dr. Hamid Kazemi, and Dr.Pirooz Zia. They were determined to impact the oral health crises in these camps. As a result of a partnership with the University of Jordan Dental School, each American dentist was partnered up with a dental resident to accompany them in clinical care, serve as translators and enhance their dental skills. Days would start early in the morning with an 1 1/2 hour bus ride to the camp, providing clinical care to patients until the curfew time of 3:30 pm. To abide by camp rules, all volunteers were required to leave the camp by 3:30 pm. While the days were long and emotionally draining, it was always hard to say goodbye and we were all eager to return the following day. During our short trip, we treated over 154 patients across two clinics. We also donated over $20,000 worth of dental supplies to the dental team in Jordan. By the end of our mission, we realized that we couldn’t even begin to address all the oral problems, but we wanted to leave the kids with a preventive program that would have a lasting impact. During day 5, over 600 kids were given oral hygiene instructive care, nutritional advice and preventive fluoride varnish applications. The older teens were trained to lead the sessions and became oral health care ambassadors. We left them with ample supplies to continue the program once we left the camp. Our genuine hope is that by empowering the teens to lead and educate the younger kids, we have them left them with knowledge that will improve their overall health. After all, healthy mouth, healthy body!
Our first dental mission was small but impactful. We are forever inspired by the people we met, their struggles, their will to overcome adversity and the overwhelming generosity towards us. We cherish the friendships we made, the opportunity to serve and be served by residents of the camp and to celebrate our similarities on so many levels. Through tears, laughter, humility, engagement, and being present, we learned that the human spirit is resilient and universal. We are forever grateful and changed by this opportunity. We look forward to our next mission with the knowledge that we are a drop in the ocean…so much more is needed. While we pride ourselves in being American, we now know what it means to be citizens of the world. Project Turquoise has applied for an independent non-for-profit entity that can now raise funds. We are excited about this next venture & what we can accomplish together with more local dentists. We are determined to stay true to our mission of “raising awareness and providing support for displaced families in the US and abroad.”
We look forward to increased collaboration to provide opportunities to people in need. Together, one person at a time.
Neda Kalantar, DDS
Forough Yazdani, DDS
Memories of a week at Camp Zaatari
Forced from their homes,
With only the clothes on their back
And their most prized possessions,
Yet their personalities carry much more
Lost sisters, brothers, and parents,
Homes they can never return to,
Yet they don’t hesitate to accept us
Into their family
Tents patched hastily,
Far too close together,
Forming one, dull landscape.
And yet, their dignity adds all the color
One could possibly wish for.
No light shined on them,
An entire people, forgotten,
As the world turns away,
And yet, their smiles shine the brightest
An evolving culture,
A new, robust economy,
And an insatiable entrepreneurial spirit
Are all proof of the willful resilience
Of these strong and competent people
Given such a challenging life,
Most would give in to hopelessness,
But the Kids of Zaatari leave such an enduring mark
That they can’t be forgotten anymore
Over the summer, I traveled to Amman, Jordan with the Project Turquoise Youth Committee to complete a program within the Za’atari refugee camp. We were traveling to the camp to finally meet a group of kids who we had been interacting with and supporting for almost a year through skype calls and fundraisers. Although the committee had been working to support Syrian refugees for quite some time, for most of us, this was our first time actually connecting with real people who had lived the horrors of the Syrian Civil War. Prior to the trip, each of us were given an activity to lead like sports, science, music, etc. We had to compose a lesson plan and decide on what we wanted to teach the Syrian youth. We were all super excited and appreciative that Project Turquoise and their partner organization, Relief International, had worked tirelessly to make the trip happen. Arriving in Jordan, I had a basic idea of what the camps were like. Or at least I thought I did. After seeing many short films portraying refugees as downcast and in desperate need of external aid, I expected to encounter a group of discouraged kids who had lost hope for the future. But after spending several days with the group, I realized that my expectations were so far from the truth. As we entered the camp on the first day, what struck me first were the colors. The camp uses “caravans” as housing units, big aluminum boxes that are a more permanent alternative to canvas tents. Each caravan in the Relief International center (the only place we were allowed to be in the entire camp) was painted bright colors with beautiful designs and powerful messages. It was nothing like the drab, barren environment I had anticipated. When we shuffled nervously into the classroom, we weren’t greeted by apprehensive expressions but by glowing smiles. I knew immediately that these kids were anything but hopeless and dejected. As we introduced ourselves and began working on our first activity, where we would help our partners write an introduction in english and they would help us write one in arabic, I was blown away by the depth of some of their thoughts. While most of the American kids wrote what sports they enjoyed and how old they were, the Syrian kids expressed their dreams of a better future. When we finished the sentences, we all got on a bus to be taken to a soccer field. By then, any drop of awkwardness I had expected had evaporated. The Syrian kids fearlessly struck up conversations about favorite teams and players. We began to speak to each other as friends, and forgot about how we had been given the world, and the world had taken so much away from them. As the day progressed, it became apparent that no lesson plans would be followed; we were having too much fun. In music class, instead of us teaching them an American song, they taught us the Dabkeh, a traditional Syrian dance. After 5 minutes of Art class, we all left to play soccer again. As we reached the end of the day, I realized just how wrong I was. Never in my life had I formed such a tight bond with a group of people so quickly. The close friendship can be mostly attributed to our rejection of the idea that we were there to teach them in favor of us just wanting to be with them and enjoy their company. If either group learned anything in the process, it was a plus, but not a necessity. As days went by, we continued having fun, learning from each other unintentionally, and relishing each others company. Never once did they seem resentful of our inexplicable, undeserved privilege. They were mature enough to recognize their reality, but ambitious enough to have dreams beyond the gates of the camp. Saying goodbye to these kids was one of the most difficult things I had ever done in my life. As I gave my new best friends hugs with tears streaming down my face, they kept saying one thing, “don’t forget me.” I knew in my heart that this experience was one I would never forget, but for them, being forgotten was all too familiar.
Since the trip, fundraising has become a much more personal experience. Instead of raising money for numbers on a statistics sheet, I’m raising money for my good friends in Za’atari. I am now more dedicated than ever to making sure they know the world has not forgotten about them.