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Letters of hope to Syrian refugees - Shadi and Joe's stories

Carey Wagner/CARE

Shadi, a 12-year-old refugee from Syria, takes out new pens and a notebook sent to him in a small care package from a man named Joe in America. From memory, the boy starts to draw his house in Syria. He adds his family, the trees in the yard, all the details that made the house his home. Finally, he sketches the bicycle that he used to love riding through the neighborhood after school.

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Shadi’s family fled their home in Damascus four years ago and sought refuge in Jordan, where they live today in a small apartment. Their home was destroyed in the relentless bombing, and they lost everything, including Shadi’s bike. As heavy as those losses felt then, they pale in light of Shadi’s most recent loss: His 11-year-old cousin who died from a preventable illness – unable to reach a hospital from their besieged hometown. Today the family is in mourning. They have just returned from a somber memorial for Shadi’s cousin.

Having lost so much, Shadi is forced to cope with grief and uncertainty far beyond his years. Dreams are about the only thing he has been able to keep — dreams of returning to a safe Syria and becoming a doctor there.

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He pulls a letter out of the little care package. It was sent from half a world away, from Joe Wernicke, 67, who similarly had to put his childhood dreams on hold after being driven away from his home and everything that was familiar. In post-World War II Germany, he too was a child refugee. And Joe, who now lives in Indianapolis, remembers when his own family received a surprise box from America. It was one of the original CARE Packages, the cardboard boxes of food and emergency supplies sent to families in war-torn Europe.

Joe was young and doesn’t recall the exact contents. But the sentiment has stuck with him forever and, nearly seven decades later, he wanted let a child displaced for so long by the Syrian conflict know that people from far away really care.

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Along with the pens and notebook, Joe included a knit hat, some candy and, most importantly, a letter. In it, Joe makes clear that his life as boy was not that dissimilar to what Shadi’s is like now: “We have had similar experiences. We are both refugees . . .”

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Joe encourages Shadi to never give up, in spite of the long shadow that may seem to follow him around now as a child refugee far from home.

Shadi, with the help of an uncle, reads Joe’s words: “You and your family are not alone. There are many individuals and organizations like CARE that are concerned about you and want to help.”

Joe had been particularly excited to learn that Shadi wants to be a doctor when he grows up. “Do not give up on your dreams,” Shadi reads. “Right now, it may seem like you may never get to go to school to become a doctor. But if you keep working at it, it can happen. I know, because I became a doctor.”

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And so, on this day of mourning, Shadi is left to wonder whether one day, when his life is not so defined by loss, he and a doctor from America named Joe might have something else in common.

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You can write a letter of hope to Syrian refugees, to learn more go to

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of each of the partners of Global Citizen.