It all began a couple of months ago when Pooja Pradeep stumbled upon a one-minute viral video on the plight of children during the ongoing Syrian crisis and being housed in refugee camps. Being an educator who works closely with NGOs and kids, the clip deeply disturbed the vivacious 23-year old, who then spent the next few weeks following Brandon Stanton’s ongoing coverage of the issue on his Humans of New York photojournalism page.
Recalls Pooja, “I used to spend every night looking at the photos on the page — I lost my peace of mind and cried in my sleep. It took an emotional toll on me. One morning, I woke up, took a picture of myself with some flowers outside the window and sent it to my fiancé — asking him, if we sent something like this to children in Syria, would it help them cope better psychologically?”
Her fiancé, Rushil Nori, having participated in the U.N Seeds of Peace program as a school student in Washington, immediately came on board, and put Pooja through to some helpful contacts. “Rushil introduced me to Chris Littlefield, formerly associated with the UN and also a TEDx speaker. He is now in Beirut himself and will connect me with the UNHCR (High Commissioner for Refugees) that houses these children,” Pooja exclaims.
Her logic was simple — one more fund-raising campaign with thousands already in place, would not get much attention, especially from the preoccupied youngsters, she was targeting. So she decided to provide emotional support instead — by means of a global initiative called Letters of Love; photo-cards carrying hand-written messages for children from the ages of 8-15 in refugee camps, which would be delivered to them by New Year’s Day!
I reached out to friends, family and acquaintances across the world to send me letters and photos offering heart-felt, comforting or even funny messages that show we care. I will then translate them into Arabic, write them down, and then mail them first to Jordan; then to Lebanon, which has over one million kids, if the campaign picks up. Within just a couple of days, I had people from all over India, the U.S, UK, Netherlands, Singapore and elsewhere, getting involved!” she smiles, happily.
The engineering graduate from VIT University, who then pursued a Bachelors in Education from St. Xavier’s, says encouragement from her parents helped her push through with her goal — despite her wedding being a month away! But Pooja, who’s also a dancer and choreographer, says marriage plans took a backseat since this idea took over her life. “And the best news of all — after mailing the photo-cards to the UNHCR by December, Rushil and I are travelling to Jordan and Lebanon next year to meet the children. I want to teach them basic math, science and some dance moves as well! I’m taking care of printing the photos and logistics involved in sending them ... but if the response gets overwhelming, I will start a crowdfunding campaign to help me cover the expenses.”
Letters of Love has already gained popularity within days of launch of its Facebook page, and Pooja asks everyone to write in. “I used to think my problem in life was that I care too much, but now I realise it’s my biggest strength. A photo with just a warm smile, kiss, hug, or your family could go a long way into changing someone’s life — wouldn’t you want to it?”