When Masters of Social Work student, Shabnam Sharifi, was reading and hearing about the Syrian refugee crisis in Fall, 2015, she immediately wanted to help. “I happened to search the Internet to see what I could do and I came upon sktwusa.org, a United Kingdom organization that was planning a trip to supply families with winter gear and clothing,” says Ms. Sharifi.
Ms. Sharifi learned that many children of refugees had not survived the past winter because it was very cold and they did not have the proper clothing and winter gear. “I decided to sign up. However, in order to go on this excursion, I not only had to pay my own airfare but raise $4500 to contribute to purchasing winter gear and clothing.”
Setting up a Go Fund Me account allowed Ms. Sharifi to raise the needed funds. “I remember expressing my concern to my sister about raising this amount of money in a short amount of time.” Within four days, Ms. Sharifi raised $4500 and in just a few short weeks, raised $20,000 for the cause.
With the power of social media, Ms. Sharifi utilized her Facebook page to spread her story. “I asked all of my friends to share my post,” recalls Ms. Sharifi. “People are amazing, I couldn’t have done this without everyone sharing my story and I was amazed at how giving people were.”
In preparation for her journey, Ms. Sharifi even visited an Islamic School in Milpitas and presented a power point presentation to the students to educate them about the Syrian refugees.
Ms. Sharifi, as the last child in her family and the only one born in the United States, grew up listening to the stories of her parents and siblings. “My parents are refugees who fled Afghanistan when they were at war with Russia in 1990,” recalls Ms. Sharifi. “As I grew up I was fascinated with my parent’s stories. When my family left Afghanistan, my mom was pregnant with my older sister, plus had three other children in tow. They first settled in Pakistan and then decided they could not stay there. They had family in the Bay Area and here we are.”
In October, 2015, Ms. Sharifi flew to Istanbul where she spent the night and met about 19 others at the Ataturk Airport, Istanbul. “My travel mates included people from the Middle East, Chicago and the Bay Area, the rest were from the United Kingdom,” recalls Ms. Sharifi.
Spending a week in Reyhanli, which is on the border of Turkey and Syria, Ms. Sharifi had the opportunity of visiting an orphanage for children and widows. “This experience changed my life and has put my life in perspective,” says Ms. Sharifi. “I have more appreciation for my parents and what they have gone through. The children were so happy, even with scars on their bodies from being near bombs going off.”
Shabnam Sharifi is graduating in May, 2017 with a Masters in Social Work. Currently, she is working with foster children in Alameda County. She feels growing up in a family of refugees drew her to a career in social work.