Opportunity is the Biggest Difference

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Last week Khalid launched a fundraiser to help vaccinate Palestinian refugees. Here he tells us the story behind the campaign.

My dad is a decades-long supporter of Anera and my two sisters and I have supported the organization more recently by following its impact on social media, donating to its campaigns, and attending its annual gala whether it’s in-person or held virtually. This year, given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on refugees and the vulnerable, I knew my sustained support would be important.

Khalid and Osamah in New York.

So last week when my dad forwarded me an email from Anera about their new educational laptops initiative with Thaki in Jordan, it felt serendipitous. I told him I’d share the appeal for lightly used donated laptops with my friends and family in Jordan, and I emailed Maggie and Skylar on Anera’s fundraising team about how else I could help.

Just a day later the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine was approved for use in the U.S. My initial elation was met with pangs of sadness as I started thinking about vaccine equity. I thought about how the vaccines were being distributed in countries like Lebanon and Israel, and how refugees were too often being left out of vaccination efforts.

Maggie and Skylar shared that $12 pays for the administration of a full two-dose course of the vaccine for one person. I felt like I could raise $12 at least a few dozen times, so I decided to launch a fundraising campaign to raise money to support administration of the vaccine to refugees and the vulnerable. My page launched at 2 pm last Saturday. I kicked off the campaign with a tweet and text messages to some of my close friends.

The original goal for the campaign was $2,400, which felt ambitious given the economy and all the worthy causes calling on people right now. So I talked with my siblings about pitching in to at least kickstart the campaign.

Amazingly, thanks to the generosity of friends and several shares of the initial tweet, I met my goal in just four hours, wildly exceeding my expectations! I immediately increased the goal to $3,600 — and we met that goal just two hours later. Keep in mind that this was at 7 pm on a Saturday — not exactly a peak time for online fundraising. I increased the goal again to $4,800 which we hit on Sunday afternoon. I hardly expected I would need to increase the goal three times. We crossed the $5,000 line — more than double the initial goal — in less than 30 hours, early on Sunday evening. Throughout the week I’ve seen people like my tweets about it and contribute $12 here and there. In fact, the page is still live — please consider giving through it.

Of course, more important than the dollar amount is what it will do. What we raised will vaccinate over 425 refugees.

Movingly, a few people I’ve never met donated up to $500 and dozens of people contributed at least $12. Seventy-two people have contributed to date. It felt like a true grassroots campaign. I think it resonated with so many because they saw the tangible benefits. The idea that it takes just $12 to vaccinate one person — it’s a really concrete way to contribute to something positive.

Beyond funding Anera’s vaccination efforts, I looked at this as an educational opportunity to share about the refugee experience and how much impact aid can have on a life. I always try to do this by telling my family’s story. For the last 15 years I’ve lived in Brooklyn, NY but I was born and raised in Dubuque, IA. My mom is from the midwest and my dad is Palestinian. He moved to the U.S. when he was about 30.

My dad was displaced from the West Bank in 1947. He grew up as a refugee in Syria and went to medical school in Damascus, Syria. He went on to work in refugee camps in Jordan before moving to the U.S, where he was a physician for 40 plus years before retiring.

He’s been a supporter of Anera for over 30 years — most of his adult life. So I grew up being familiar with the organization and started giving myself in my late twenties. I owe a debt of gratitude to my parents, who have worked for everything I have. And I know my dad wouldn’t have been able to provide me with so much opportunity if it were not for the people and organizations who helped lift him up through his childhood. I try to volunteer my time and do what I can to educate people about refugee experiences.

Khalid, his dad Osamah, and his sister Iman at Anera’s 2019 gala.
Khalid, his dad Osamah, and his sister Iman at Anera’s 2019 gala.

The biggest catalyst for my involvement with the cause was when Trump announced his presidential candidacy in 2015. I started to see vilification replace the empathy for the refugee experience that has been such a part of the American story. And COVID-19 has only compounded the hardships refugees face. 

So I’ve been especially active in fundraising and education around refugee issues in the last five years. 

I held a fundraiser for Anera about a year and a half ago in-person New York City. This is the first peer-to-peer fundraiser that I’ve done, and it was much easier to put together and just as impactful. In addition to fundraising, I try to leverage my professional skills where I can. I work for a technology company called Stack Overflow, and I’ve used my background to speak with the students at Anera PLUS+Code.

It’s been a great privilege getting to know so many refugees over the last several years, and I always try to emphasize in my writing and when fundraising that refugees are too often seen as “the other.” This can be the case even when the message is focused on helping them. What I find from meeting refugees is that they’re so similar to the rest of us. They listen to the same music, they use social media like us when they can, they’re connected to their families, and they have the same dreams and ambitions. We’re so much more connected than people think. The real difference is opportunity.

I hope as we come out of the pandemic that we see the world as the interconnected place it is, and we all realize that distributing opportunity can be as easy as making a small contribution and being empathetic always.

Khalid, his sisters Iman and Sarah, and Osamah.


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