EDITOR'S NOTE: Eastern Michigan University's 15,000 students arrive in Ypsilanti from 50 states, and 83 countries, bringing with them diverse cultures and backgrounds. This series explores that diversity by featuring campus organizations designed to highlight and share the beauty of cultures from around the world.
This week: Student Organize 4 Syria
Students Organize 4 Syria, also known as SOS, at Eastern Michigan University is a non-religious, apolitical, nonprofit organization and club with the goal of aiding Syrian people locally and overseas, as well as educating students on Syrian culture.
“We work to spread awareness about the humanitarian crisis that’s happening in Syria, and we do that through advocacy, educational campaigns, fundraising,” EMU SOS founder Yara Almatroud said.
Almatroud and her family moved to the United States from Syria about seven years ago and had to start their lives all over. When the U.S. opened immigration for Syrian refugees, Almatroud’s family wanted to help out others arriving who didn’t have much support at the time.
“My mom and her friends opened a warehouse in the Ann Arbor area and we started collecting stuff for them and taking donations from people to buy them stuff for when they first move in,“ Almatroud said. "When I got to university, I wanted to get more people to do that with me and I found out that there is a national organization that does that; so I opened a chapter here and that’s basically how we started."
SOS is a national, student-led initiative with chapters across the country and globally.
As the Arab community at EMU increased, SOS began holding more social events and educational campaigns to bring more awareness to the organization.
Almatroud does not work alone though. Help comes from a board of other students including: Co-president Zainab Almayahi; Co-president Rama Badawi; Vice President Ghaeth Khasawneh; Treasurer Omar Nahlawi; Secretary Bayann Ankouni; Philantropist Ahmad Issa; Marketing Chair Mahmoud Osman; and members at large Ali Alsabbar and Shahd Almatroud.
SOS’s members host weekly meetings to discuss events and hope to host one philanthropy event, one social event and one educational event a month.
These events are not only for Syrian students, but any EMU student who wants to attend and learn about the history of Syria and what’s happening in the country.
“It’s important for everyone to know that it’s open for everyone and just because our name is Syrian, it doesn’t mean just for Syrians, and it’s not just for Arabs, it’s for everybody and I think everyone should come and check it out because it’s not what people think,” Badawi said.
Following the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, which caused millions of people to lose their homes and move away, the United States opened its door to Syrian refugees, many of whom were young children at the time. Now, those children are at a point in their lives where they have to start making decisions about their futures, and members of SOS want to help those young adults prepare.
“We go translate for parents who don’t know English, we help high school students apply for colleges and try to figure out what major they want to go into and basically help them and basically we’re making them feel like their dreams are possible,” Almatroud said.
After hearing stories of many students dropping out due to language barriers and little help, SOS members decided this past summer to focus on incoming college and high school students.
These students “didn’t really have someone there helping them, telling them that what you want to be, or your dream career or goal, could happen,“ Almatroud said. “We started going to their houses, helping them apply for college, helping them find scholarships and all of this. We’re actually planning hopefully by the end of this year to hold portfolio workshops to teach them how to write a resume, to teach them how to go on with job interviews and college interviews and all of this.”
SOS’s main goal is to support the Syrian community and spread the word for students to join the organization.
Last year, the group raised about $3,000 for a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon, sending heaters, jackets, and blankets for winter.
“Winter there gets really bad and when they live in tents, they don’t really have a lot of insulation, so we basically gave every tent a heater, blankets, some cooking essentials such as oil, rice and all of that. And then for the kids, we gave them vouchers to go and buy winter jackets and clothes with it,” Almatroud said. “After we sent the clothes overseas, we got a video of all of them shopping. They’re all so happy, and it just put smiles on their faces and knowing that we’re making a difference and we’re helping people out.”
The members said their favorite part of SOS is the impact they have on people.
“Even just like people that we helped get into college, knowing that I was part of somebody’s life, and I helped them do something that big, it’s a pretty cool feeling,” Badawi said.
The group also enjoys the people they get to meet and form bonds with.
“We met so many students where like in a sense they didn’t really have any friends and they felt more alone,“ Almayahi said. “Once they came, they felt more welcome, more at home, so really just like making everyone feel comfortable and leaving a huge impact is like a great thing.”
These Syrian students said that a main part of their culture is hospitality and giving people their all as soon as you meet them.
“A big thing in our culture is literally like you meet somebody, they’re part of you now,“ Badawi said. "I think that’s a big thing that we were all raised on, I wouldn’t say overly kind, but to other cultures, we're very welcoming, kind and generous in a way.”
In November, SOS plans to host a Syrian cultural night to make everyone feel comfortable with culture thought performances, presentations and food. SOS wants students at EMU to see how Syria was back in the day outside of the war and humanitarian crisis.
Almatroud said EMU as a university could help support Syrian people more by offering affordable English Second Language classes and funding organizations to host events and educate people about what’s happening around the world.
To learn more about the organization and stay up to date on upcoming events, follow the club @sos.emu on Instagram.
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