Postcards to Syria and Turkey

In late May this year, an unexpected email came through JRS Singapore’s mailbox from the Korean Catholic community in Singapore. It was from Sunday school teacher, Ms Otilia Choi, on behalf of her class of nine Primary 6 students with a love offering of $4,200 to JRS Syria for the victims of February’s Syria and Turkey earthquakes.

In the email Otilia shared, “In our Sunday school lessons, we have been exploring various places that are meaningful to Catholics, including those along St Paul’s missionary journey. This time we focused on the earthquake-stricken regions in Turkey and Syria. After learning about these areas, the children expressed their thoughts and feelings through paintings, which we turned into postcards to sell and raise the funds for the earthquake victims. One of the student’s 3-year-old sibling also contributed to creating the clay art design featured on the postcard.”

Otilia, who also asked for an opportunity to meet JRS and learn more about its humanitarian efforts, shared that this initiative was embraced wholeheartedly by her students, their families and the wider Korean Catholic community in Singapore.

“We believe that this experience will be a valuable and fruitful opportunity for the children to witness the impact of their project and to develop a greater understanding of the issues faced by refugees. Moreover, we hope that it will serve as a source of motivation for them to continue their charitable efforts as followers of Christ,” said Otilia.

Indeed, “ask and you shall receive”, JRS Singapore swiftly connected Otilia, her fellow catechist and a few of the students with Fr Dan Corrou SJ, the Regional Director of JRS Middle East North Africa region. Fr Corrou is based in Beirut and working on relief and rebuilding efforts in the affected region. Over a video conference, Fr Corrou shared with the students and catechists about the situation in Syria and Turkey, the living conditions and challenges. The students had the opportunity to ask questions and also share the thoughts, hopes and well-wishes depicted in their drawings with Fr Corrou.

“I drew Jesus hugging a big red heart. And inside the red heart are the flags of Syria and Turkey. I wanted to tell the person who receives the postcards that when people are struggling, like people in Turkey and Syria, due to the earthquakes, ‘Jesus will be there for you,’” shared 12-year-old, Jaywon Lee.

“I would like to thank everyone who gave us this opportunity to share how we would show love and hope so that Syria and Turkey would feel better. So I wrote a quote which says, ‘When life gives you 100 reasons to break down and cry, show life you have a million reasons to smile and laugh.’ I think this quote gives the message to not give up because there’s always a bright side to everything,” quipped another student, Gregorio Kim.

On 6 February 2023, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake occurred in southern Turkey near the northern border of Syria. This quake was followed later by a magnitude 7.5 earthquake located about 95 kilometers away. According to reports, the earthquakes and underlying vulnerabilities have resulted in the deaths of over 59,000 people in Turkey and Syria, and left millions of lives affected.

Fr Dan Corrou SJ sharing about the situation in Syria and Turkey.

“I think the work that you and all of your classmates have done is a beautiful example. Even though you are geographically very far away, through your drawings, prayers and donation, you have reached out your hand to the people and said, ‘you are not alone.’ It is the same thing that God says to every one of us. In those times, when we really struggle, ‘you are not alone, I am with you, I will never abandon you’. I think that’s a sign of hope, of new birth, even out of the damage and difficulty, the loss and the pain of the earthquake,” said Fr Corrou to the students and catechists.