The Syrian war and refugee crisis that started in 2015 was the most televised war and conflict. Watching the news at the comfort of her home, mechanical engineer-turned-teacher Pooja Pradeep felt devastated. The same year in September, the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi washed ashore the Mediterranean sea near Turkey.
Many similar incidents followed this and it disturbed Pooja’s conscience. Instead of doing nothing, Pooja started an initiative called Letters of Love, which is primarily aimed at spreading smiles to refugee children across the world through handwritten letters.
“I felt shattered after watching and reading the news about refugee children across the world. I wanted to reach out to those children but didn’t know how to do it. The only thing that crossed my mind was to write letters.
While interacting with children, I have noticed how much they appreciate and love the art of letter writing. One of the most important gifts we can give is the gift of hope and human connection. That’s how I launched Letters of Love under the guidance of UNHCR-Gaziantep, Turkey,” says Pooja.
The idea was to get people send a happy picture of themselves with a short, encouraging message. These pictures would be printed onto a post card and the message would be translated into the children’s native language and send to them during occasions like New Year, Children’s Day, important festivals and so on.
Once Pooja started popularising the initiative through social media, she realised that many civilians honestly wanted to help the children in the refugee camps.
“There are two different letter-writing programmes. One is the general letter writing programme that is open to anybody around the world. The other programme is called the pen pal project.
We will facilitate a session with school children and focus on fostering friendships between children in India who would write to the refugee kids in war-zones in Syria, Turkey and other countries.
This project enables students to work with other children across cultures and be able to explore new ideas and prospects. This will also help in cultivating empathy among young children,” adds the 26-year-old.
Now, there is a diverse team consisting of many volunteers from 11 countries and seven time zones. “In the coming days, we are planning to start psychosocial support programmes where we will be including art, music, dance and sports workshops in refugee camps and community centres run by youth across the country,” she sums up.