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Citizenship

A Gym Gave a Syrian Refugee Child Free Membership After His Photo Went Viral

A 12-year-old refugee boy has been given a free lifetime membership to a gym after a photograph of him staring longingly into the window went viral. 

Young Mohammed Khaled, who works as a shoe-shiner in southern Turkey, was tracked down by the gym owner who wanted to do something to help. 

Gym co-owner Mustafa Kucukkaya shared an image of Khaled on Instagram, wearing his shoe-shining kit on his back, putting out a call for anyone who knew the boy to put him in touch. 

“We know that feeling well,” he wrote on the Instagram post.

Take action: Protect Children Fleeing Persecution and Conflict

“It affected me very much because we came from nothing and we didn’t have a gym like that in our time,” Kucukkaya told Turkish newspaper Sabah

“The Turkish people are very sensitive about this issue. I am very touched,” he added. “I think we are doing something very good.”

Kucukkaya’s colleague Engin Dogan confirmed that they had been able to find Khaled, and give him a full-access pass to the gym.

Read more: 'Sesame Street' Just Got $100 Million to Help Refugee Kids

“A boy, looking through the gym window, wearing flip-flops in the middle of winter and carrying his backpack,” said Dogan, speaking to Hurriyet News

“Our aim was to find him and offer him a lifetime membership here,” he added. “And, we did it. He is one of our members now.” 

Khaled now gets to train at the gym in Adiyaman province, and was later pictured again with the team.

“He found me and helped me,” Khaled told Anadolu, a Turkish news agency. “I had always dreamed of losing weight and now I believe I can do that by working out.”

Read more: This Syrian Doctor Is Building an Underground Hospital for Women and Girls

Turkey hosts over 3.7 million refugees, from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and Somalia, according to figures released by the European Commission on Jan.10. That means it hosts more refugees than any other country in the world. 

About 94% of Syrian refugees in Turkey live don’t live in camps, and only have a limited, but growing, access to basic services. Registered refugees have access to public services, including education and healthcare. 

Even so, more than 500,000 Syrian refugee children were out of school, according to figures released in April 2017, across the five major neighbouring host countries of Syrian refugees: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. 

The out-of-school rate for Syrian refugee children dropped from 45% to 34% between 2015 and 2016. 

Read more: Over 500,000 Syrian Refugee Children Are Out of School

“For the first time since the start of the Syrian crisis, there are more Syrian children in Turkey attending class than there are out of school,” said UNICEF last year. 

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