Raising money for Syria, 6,000 miles from home

Six thousand miles from his homeland, local Syrian physician Hadi Yaziji felt like he had to do something when he heard from his friends and family and saw the images from the decimated city of Aleppo spreading across social media.

Yaziji's Whatsapp group text
Yaziji’s Whatsapp group text

He’s tuned into everything from the shocking images that make national headlines to the day-to-day minutiae of daily life in a country at civil war.

“My entire family still lives in Syria, most of my classmates from middle school and high school are still living there … I’m in touch with them through WhatsApp,” Yazji said.

“As someone who has spent the first 23 years of their life in another country, you still have strong roots and connections. It’s devastating to see how my homeland is decimated.”

Syria’s civil war between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebels, including the Islamic State, has lasted more than five years. Nearly a quarter of a million people have died and 11 million have fled their homes. Roughly 10,000 Syrian refugees have been relocated to the United States as of August 2016, with Florida being one of the state’s housing the most Syrian refugees.

Prior to that, 150,000 Syrians already lived in the U.S with 3,000 Syrians living in South Florida, according to U.S. Census data.

Yaziji, 50, is one of them. He moved to Miami 12 years ago with his wife, who is Cuban-American. The two met while training at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, and lived in Seattle for a bit before making the move to Pinecrest in 2004.

“My roots are not to be ignored. With this … happening in Syria, I felt like I didn’t make a decision. I thought ‘What do I need to do?’ — not “Should I do something?’ but rather ‘How do I do something?’”, he said.

Hadi Yaziji in his pathology lab.
Hadi Yaziji in his pathology lab.

“I have been helping as an individual, writing checks to charity helping and family and friends with medical expenses but as one person you can only do so much.”

So over the past few months, when he’s not working in his pathology lab, he’s been organizing a benefit concert to raise money for victims and people who have been internally displaced as a result of the war.

The show is finally coming to fruition on Thursday, Jan. 12. Yaziji fronted $4,000 to pay for renting the venue, sound equipment, and marketing campaigns. The headlining band, the Toronto-based Sultans of String, whose music is a combination of “Celtic reels, flamenco, Gypsy-jazz, Arabic, Cuban, and South Asian rhythms,” according to their website, is playing free of charge. They played a sold-out show at the Arts Garage in Delray this past Sunday.

Yaziji says he has already recouped his own costs and has begun raising money. He’s currently at $800 in the green, but hopes to raise $10,000 to $15,000 in total from ticket sales and donations — 100 percent of which will be donated to the National Presbyterian Church of Syria.

While Yaziji considers himself agnostic, he found that getting money to the church was “the path of least resistance,” when compared to other aid organizations. This particular church, he says, is primarily volunteer run and so has very few administrative overhead costs.

He plans to direct the funds towards medical expenses for people who were injured as a result of the war. When asked why he decided to invest the time and energy into organizing this concert Yaziji said it was a no-brainer.

“If something like this doesn’t move me, then I’m not a human being.”

More information about the concert:
Where: Pinecrest Gardens, 11000 South Red Road, Pinecrest, FL 33156
Date: January 12
Time: 8:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Cost: $35 – $65

If you’re looking for other ways to help victims of the civil war in Syria, there’s a list of resources here and here you can check out.