Two years ago, I saw a documentary film about an informal refugee settlement on a dusty hilltop in the Lebanese mountains, where families from Syria had fled war and chemical attacks and were trying to survive.

KETERMAYA, which is also the name of the camp, told its story from the perspective of the children who lived there, including a group of older girls who had created their own school curriculum for the younger children.

A month later, I founded Help Syria’s Kids and was on a flight from JFK to Beirut.

At Ketermaya, I saw what I had seen on film, only more so. Children were living in desperate conditions, yet all had miraculous energy, resilience, and light like I had never seen before. I wanted to help them find a path out of their lives as refugees.

I met with the British Council in Beirut and was told that the most impactful thing that could be done to help the children transform their lives, was to teach them English, and I realized that I could do that, as well as inspire a sense of hope, by getting kids in Hudson to exchange letters with kids in Ketermaya.

When I came home from that first trip, I started the first pen pal program with Hudson Intermediate School, not only to teach the Syrian children to read and write English, but to teach the American children what it means to be a refugee.

I’ve made many more journeys to Lebanon, delivering food, hygienic and school supplies. I’ve partnered with the American University of Beirut and Lebanese American University, which have each contributed many eager teachers and learning programs. I’ve expanded our pen pal program to dozens of schools around the world, with students exchanging thousands of letters with Syrian refugee children throughout Lebanon.

Through these efforts, students all over the world are learning about the plight of the Syrian refugee children and want to connect with them, not only to learn more about their lives, their culture, and their dreams, but to support their right to education as well.

Watch the Ketermaya film trailer, by Lucas Jedrzejak: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/ketermaya