This post is part of our Peacemaker in Action Nominee Profile Series, featuring Faisal Hu from Turkey.
Faisal Hu demonstrates the power of interfaith collaboration. He is a Muslim man who volunteers for a Buddhist organization that provides assistance to Christians and Muslims in Istanbul. Hu has been a part of the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation since 2014. Guided by Founder Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s teachings that children are essential in shaping the future, Hu has led his fellow volunteers in providing quality education and accessible healthcare to more than 2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey over the past seven years.
According to UNHCR, there were over 1.7 million displaced Syrians in Turkey in 2015, and this figure has since increased. These individuals who are now refugees are subject to various forms of anti-refugee sentiment and violence, permeating their daily lives — from education to employment, to healthcare, to cultural differences between themselves and the locals. This violence is rampant in Turkey’s larger cities, and particularly in the Sultan Gazi district of Istanbul. The widespread poverty in this area led to overcrowding, limited resources, and an increase in child labor. Terrorists also continually target the area, creating an environment of intense fear and exhaustion for the Syrian refugees living there.
Hu, in conjunction with the Tzu Chi Foundation, dedicates his life’s work to provide the necessary support to these refugees. In 2015, the Tzu Chi Foundation set up the El Menahil International School in Sultan Gazi. Since its formation, the school has provided over 3,000 refugee children with access to free education. The school garnered support from a wide range of resources, such as Syrian professors, members of the Sultan Gazi district government, and even an American educational institution, enabling each student to receive an official diploma upon completing their education at El Menahil.
For Hu, the purpose of El Menahil is to promote personal autonomy and cross-cultural exchange for its students. He believes that the education at this institution will provide the refugee children with the necessary skills to contribute meaningfully to their generation: the generation responsible for the future. Hu also sees the institution as a place that will allow its students to assimilate to life in Turkey while maintaining their Syrian heritage. Since its founding, the first El Menahil school, via the Tzu Chi Foundation, has successfully set up six more of these educational institutions, creating new opportunities for numerous children. Many students at El Menahil broke free of child labor and now pursue life-changing educational opportunities.
The Tzu Chi Foundation also set up a clinic that provides free medical care to the Syrian refugees of Istanbul. Situated in the Sultan Gazi district, the clinic has treated more than 10,000 individuals, offering various forms of healthcare, such as pediatric, gynecologic, and optometric services, among others. The clinic is essential in providing regular check-ups and appointments, which many of the refugees could not otherwise afford. Additionally, it has provided employment opportunities to Syrian refugees who had previously worked as doctors, allowing them to continue practicing medicine by treating patients at the clinic.
In spite of the challenges from certain groups, such as gangs who try to prevent students from attending the El Menahil schools or interfere with patients receiving care at the clinic, Hu and the Tzu Chi Foundation continue to persevere in their relief efforts. The work of the foundation is largely appreciated by both the national and international community. In 2018, the Turkish government organized an event for the Tzu Chi Foundation to highlight its work as the only international NGO providing access to education to the Syrian refugees in Turkey. Today, Hu continues to be an essential part of the foundation and serves as an inspiring reminder that despite one’s circumstances, positive change is indeed possible.
Special thanks to Debra Boudreaux for nominating Faisal Hu for the Peacemaker in Action award.