Five years ago, Finland resident Rami Adham embarked on a mission to help the Syrian refugees in his former hometown of Aleppo. The father of six used all his savings to buy food and medicine. As he was leaving, his three-year-old daughter, Yasmin, offered to donate her toys, in exchange for a new Barbie doll. A deal was made, and the aid worker added 25 teddy bears and 36 Barbie dolls to his already heavy load.
While the supplies were welcomed, it was the toys that generated the most excitement. Adham recalls kids eagerly running towards him from every corner of the camp, and particularly remembers a six-year-old girl who did not talk at all. He later discovered that she had lost her voice while screaming at the government forces who killed her father and kidnapped her mother. Adham, who has visited the young girl several times since and given her a Barbie and a My Little Pony toy, says, "Her reaction is always the same, a beautiful smile."
Since then, the amazing man, who has established the Finnish-Syrian Association to collect donations, has been visiting different refugee camps in Syria every two months. Each time, he brings up to 70 kg (154 lbs) of donated toys to this war-torn country. Over the years, the aid worker has even figured out the optimal way to pack in the most toys. Since Barbies are heavy and delicate, he carries them in his hand luggage. The less fragile and lighter soft toys are sealed inside vacuum bags and placed in the checked baggage.
While the journey to Syria has never been without peril, things have gotten worse since the country closed its borders to most traffic two years ago. The Finnish resident now has to “smuggle” the toys into the country through the mountainous border between Syria and Turkey. Depending on the route, the journey takes anywhere from eight to sixteen hours. In June, during his 27th visit, the aid worker had to walk eight miles into the city of Aleppo while carrying the heavy burden because it was too dangerous to drive. Things have gotten even worse since. During his most recent visit, in September, Adham was completely shut out from his hometown which has become the center of the country’s five-year civil war.
But none of the hardships appear to faze the brave “toy smuggler of Aleppo.” Adham says that the responses he gets from the kids every time he hands out a toy “charges his batteries.” To give them something more to look forward to, the humanitarian recently established a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money to build a school for the refugee children. In less than two months, Adham has been able to obtain over €60,000 of the €100,000 Euros he needs to fulfill his dream.
Resources: gofundme.com, bbc.co.uk, independent.co.uk