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LoL - Letters to Show You Care
The warmth of a handwritten note is beyond any words. The feelings unequivocally conveyed, the message delivered, and the happy smile brought to the face, a letter is, possibly, the most warm way of communication in the human history. With times, we might be getting muddled with Whatsapp and other messenger apps, but there’s someone who’s holding on to the traditional letter and making a difference in the live of the oft neglected people, the refugees.
Nov 22, 2018 at 00:00

Do you remember Brandon Stanton’s photographic travelogue by the name ‘Humans of New York’? And also the stories of Syrian refugees across Greece, Hungary, Croatia, Austria and other European asylums? This was the most poignant series that gave us a hard time digesting the real but perturbing stories of refugee children for whom destiny had nothing but oblivion in store. And at the same time, in the month of September 2015, Turkish journalist Nilüfer Demir showed the world the fate of Alan Kurdi, the 3 year old Syrian boy, who drowned and swept ashore the Mediterranean when an overloaded rubber boat capsized in the sea. This overwhelmed all as it unveiled the tragic fate of the refugees.

 

But the then 24 year old Pooja, a teacher, a choreographer and an engineering graduate, was moved beyond any measure. Neither could she sleep, nor keep her peace. Ardent to bring about a change, she thought of ways she could somehow contribute for the better. She knew running another fundraiser would not be of much help as crowd-funding would be difficult to generate in such a big amount. Pooja says “One morning, I woke up, took a picture of myself with some flowers and thought if it would make anyone smile.” From that first postcard, with a happy picture on the front and a warm message on the back, she went on to give life to ‘Letters of Love’, a global youth-led initiative that makes a difference to global refugee crises through empathy, education and empowerment. Pooja says “I used to think my problem in life was that I cared too much, but now I realise it’s my biggest strength.”

 

 

Initiated in 2015, now with a team of 25 peace-makers from 11 countries and 7 timezones, Pooja Pradeep has successfully sent handwritten postcards to more than 30,000 Syrian, Iraqi, Yazidi, Palestinian and Rohingya refugee children. The special part of the initiative is that the driving force of love is youth and about 20,000 young people have contributed already. Interestingly, the youngest one of the team of 25 is only 13 years old.

 

To send a message, you just have to upload a joyful photograph of yourself, the one without sunglasses or religious elements but with a wide-wide smile, leave a message (in less than 50 words) filled with love, hope and best wishes but not sympathy or outrage; the volunteers at Letters of Love will take a print of your photo, translate your message to the local language, and write it by hand. And the letter is good to go! Initially, when Letters of Love didn’t have a website, they used Facebook as the medium for taking entries from the masses.

 

 

Over the years, Letters of Love has evolved to conduct ‘Sensitisation Programs’ for teachers and facilitators in schools and special leadership programs for young students to inspire them to be empathetic and drivers of real change. ‘The Pen Pal Project’ helps to extend friendship across borders and helps well-to-do children connect with victims of war and survivors of exile. Active participation in ‘Meet, Greet and Scribble’ events helps one interact with people with a similar mindset and bring about collective change.

 

 

Pooja’s best friend and now husband, Rushil Nori, had been a delegate at the Seeds of Peace camp in 2003, and used his connections to take this initiative to the next level. His then-counsellor, Mr. Chrisopher Littlefield loved the idea and took it forward to his friends at the UNHCR immediately. The Turkey centre promptly agreed to take this up to engage children to connect through handwritten colourful letters and as google translator wouldn’t have the warmth of the human language, Amna Niaz came in as the saviour. Simultaneously, people from NGOs and students from schools started pouring their love in the form of letters and Ketto, a crowdfunding platform, gave them the platform to raise funds for the basic operations.

 

 

Letters of Love has created an impact with its positive work and is not just an official member of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but also of the UN - Sustainable Development Solutions Youth Network. They have created a network of Student Ambassadors who have taken the onus to sensitize more people all across the world.

 

By November 2015, UNHCR had connected Letters of Love to Mercy Corps, International Medical Corps, Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants and Support To Life, as implementation partners that helped them deliver letters to 1500 Syrian refugee children. They successfully made New Year 2016 special for these kids through postcards and they also donated Rs. 1.25 lakhs for the refugees. And the story continues.

 

How a simple smile can make changes worthwhile!

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