From Syria to Rhode Island

Little one eating Plumpy'Nut

Little one eating Plumpy’Nut

(Navyn) Note: This has nothing to do with our trip, but I just can’t seem to stop writing. Below is the OpEd I wrote this week and sent to the Providence Journal. They printed a version on 9/25/15.

I woke up this morning at 6:30am to learn that my babysitter quit. My twin’s field hockey practice was just moved to North Smithfield and I need to drive an hour and a half round trip during rush hour to pick them up. My 6th grader forgot her homework and my 4th grader is in tears that I am not home enough. My husband is out of town and I now need to get these kids to three different schools and get to the office. For those few hours I feel the weight of the world and wonder how I will make it through the day.

Then, I get a reality check.

I make it to Edesia’s headquarters in Providence where 24 hours a day we make a fortified peanut butter used to treat severe acute malnutrition and export to 45 countries through partners like UNICEF, World Food Programme and USAID. I grab a coffee in the break room, still feeling sorry for myself and notice a new smiling face sitting at the table. I sit down and introduce myself. “Hi, I’m Navyn, pleasure to meet you. ? What do you do here?”

He told me. He is from Syria. He is a refugee. He was recruited by ISIS and had to flee the country with only hours to prepare to leave his home and family. How does one even respond? I sat there stunned wanting to know more. I’ve seen the headlines, I’ve seen the stories of the children and their incredibly dangerous journeys to safety and try to put myself in their shoes. At once, my field hockey worries dissolve and I feel ashamed that I even thought I was having a rough morning.

We have many refugees here at Edesia. They do all kinds of jobs, from shipping to production to quality control. They have survived the unthinkable. Wars, famine, droughts, or all of the above. I look at them with awe and respect, and wonder how they mustered the strength and resilience to overcome. Ironically, we make emergency food aid to help people in this precise situation. At Edesia, we have been making ready-to-eat fortified food products for children under the age of two in Syria for the last three years to help prevent malnutrition and help their little bodies and brains grow. My new colleague tells me he has seen our products in Syria and now he is here, in Providence where it was made. I’m speechless.

As I look at our new employee, I wonder if our policy makers have ever met a refugee. What is a refugee? A refugee can be a doctor, an 8-month pregnant mother of twins, a three-year old, and in my case the refugee sitting across from me is an engineer only four courses away from his Master’s degree. Think for a second about packing up all of your worldly possessions this evening and walking halfway across Europe only to reach a fence, a locked gate and soldiers. I cannot.

Many of us believe that refugees are uneducated people looking for a handout. My new colleague tells me people have asked him why he hasn’t applied for food stamps. He says, “I am here for safety, not to ask for help. I have money, I have a job, I can take care of myself. I have a couple of steps left to finish my Master’s degree, which I began at the University of Aleppo. I want to complete my Master’s in the U.S. and continue working. I would like to visit home at some point – even if all that is left is crumbling buildings, because Syria is my home. Now I am here, making food for my home country.“

When ISIS stopped him at a checkpoint on his way home from the factory he worked at in Aleppo, they held him at gunpoint and asked him if he was a doctor or engineer. A quick thinker, he told the gunman he was not and that his father had just passed away and he needed to help his mom. He knew this was the last time he would ever drive this road. He said goodbye to his parents and fled to Turkey, applied for a visa and was fortunate to be one of the 1,500 Syrians to be granted asylum in the U.S. His two brothers, a lawyer and a mechanical engineer are living in Germany and England. “We have Assad and we have ISIS. When you have to decide between these two you have to side with Assad even though we know he killed thousands.”

What if you came face to face with a refugee? What would you do if you took the time to ask them about their story? Would you shut the door in their face? I ask the same question when it comes to my work. I have the honor and privilege to meet refugees and children from every corner of the earth all the time. I know their stories. And that is why I can never turn my back and pretend they are not human beings or close my eyes and hope they will quietly disappear.

The one thing I love most about coming to my office is that we are involved in making a global impact every single day. Our team of 75 employees hail from 24 different countries. Everyday we are blessed to have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of millions and many times in the same countries where our employees once fled. If a story is making the headlines, then you can be sure that Edesia’s machines are busy working around the clock to provide nutritional relief for those suffering most. It energizes me, drives me, motivates me to work harder, and at the same time, reminds me daily to always keep perspective by trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes.

To meet the ever-increasing global demand in the places you see on the nightly news, we are building a new 82,000 square foot facility in Quonset which will allow us to make enough food to feed upwards of two million children every year. If you would like to help us finish building these walls, go to www.edesiaglobal.org to donate.

Navyn Salem of Barrington is the Founder of Edesia | Global Nutrition Solutions

 

 

 

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  20. ToniV on September 26, 2015 at 10:24 am

    nacyn, thank you for helping me realize that my own problems pale in comparison when someone is figbting for basic safety and shelter from oppression and worse.

    I am on day 12 of a 2 week hospitalization and as bad as it has been, I am safe and do not have to fear from tyranny.

    Thanks for sharing. And keep writing – you have a great couce and the ability to talk from a unique perspective. Hugs!

    • ToniV on September 26, 2015 at 10:25 am

      Please forgive typing errors – medications make me a little imprecise.

  21. Steve Riege on September 20, 2015 at 12:11 am

    Sleeping alongside my dad in a hospital room while works to recover from hip surgery and feeling a little sorry for him and myself. Thank you for this reminder helping me keep things in perspective.

  22. Kay McNulty on September 19, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    I am ashamed our country is doing so little to help these refugees. Let’s hope your article is published and it makes an impact on our policies.

  23. Kay McNulty on September 19, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    I am ashamed that our country is doing so little to help these refugees. Let’s hope your article makes an impact and things change.

  24. John Reed on September 19, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    Thank you for sharing, Navyn. If those who are messing things up on the national and international scene could share some of your compassion, the world would be much improved. Keep up the good work!

  25. Maureen on September 19, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    Thank you Navyn, beautifully written. I do hope it gets published.

  26. Elizabeth Goldberg on September 19, 2015 at 9:52 am

    Just what I too needed to read as I “struggled” to figure out the self perceived “daunting” logistics of my family life this AM. Thank you for the gentle, and very interesting to read, reality check.

  27. Anne on September 19, 2015 at 9:30 am

    Loved this story. We are so fortunate and trying to remember that everyday can be a challenge with everyday life. Amazing you can make a difference daily! Glad to call you my friend.

  28. Mimi George on September 19, 2015 at 9:14 am

    Hi Navyn,
    You so eloquently expressed what I have been feeling and thinking about for months. The Syrian refugee situation weighs on me very heavily but I am at a loss on how and where to help.
    I recently retuned from Jordan where tourists used to have to pay to be shuttled to the many refugee camps on the Syrian border. Last month, I saw an entirely different scenario. The refugees, many families with young children, were flowing out of detention centers, cuing in long lines waiting for food, busses and shelter all over the Jordan countryside. They were everywhere…just waiting. It saddens me that my own country cannot reach out and do more to relocate these families .
    I am glad to hear that

  29. Bob R. on September 19, 2015 at 8:29 am

    Great story Navyn. Reality checks are always necessary….

  30. Kathleen Larsen on September 19, 2015 at 8:22 am

    Beautifully written Navyn, I do hope this gets published and others get to hear your voice. This is a lesson for all of us about the ” other” side of the story which too often we are too busy to stop and listen to.
    I wish I lived closer, I would be your Nanny. We are currently kid sitting for three busy Kiley kids in RI and our heads are spinning. To do all you do while trying to balance marriage, children, career and issues that tug at your heart strings is amazing. Thinking of you and the enormous ability you have to reach out and help others.
    Blessings and Love,
    Kathleen

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