For the past two years, AGBU alumna and Syria native Anna Carolin Haleblian has decided to do something different for her birthday. In lieu of presents, she has asked her family and friends to donate to a cause that is close to her heart: the AGBU Emergency Relief Fund for Syrian Armenians. When Anna turned 26 last year, she collected over $3,300, which directly supported humanitarian work on the ground across Syria and in Armenia and Lebanon, where thousands of Syrian Armenian refugees have resettled. This year, she exceeded last year’s total with $3,697.
“Over the past year, the situation in Aleppo has only worsened and tragic news coming out of Syria has become the daily routine. The shock has faded and unfortunately so has the philanthropic drive in many of us. My message to everyone who cares about the humanitarian situation in Syria is to make a habit out of donating, even if it is a minimal amount,” Anna says.
Anna grew up in Aleppo under the AGBU umbrella. Her roster of AGBU activities is endless. From kindergarten to high school, she attended the AGBU Lazar Najarian-Calouste Gulbenkian School. For almost a decade, she was an AGBU girl scout as well as a longtime member of the local AGBU theater group, music school and basketball team. Before relocating to Boston to attend Harvard University, she participated in the 2010 AGBU New York Summer Internship Program (NYSIP).
As a teenager, Anna and her friends’ favorite place to get together was the AGBU Calouste Gulbenkian Center in Aleppo. It was their home away from home, which they affectionately dubbed agump [club]. Today, the agump is a hub for aid distribution, not socializing, and Syria’s ongoing war has made the country Anna loves and remembers unrecognizable.
In Anna’s old neighborhood, homes, hospitals, churches and schools have been reduced to rubble. Yet, the spirit of solidarity and camaraderie—values that AGBU instilled in her from a very young age—hold strong. When Anna saw photos of her childhood friends volunteering at the agump with AGBU, packaging food and medical supplies in a makeshift assembly line, she knew it was time to take action herself. She found the perfect platform through gofundme.com and the donations have come flooding in both years.
Last year, within days of launching her online campaign, Anna exceeded her fundraising goal of $2,000. It was fast and simple, she explains: “Every single one of us is just a few clicks away from setting up our own crowdfunding site. If you give your network the chance to contribute, I’m sure you’ll be surprised by the outcome. Together, through this grassroots approach, we can each do our part, matching the efforts of the biggest donors and foundations. With today’s social media tools, the possibilities are endless. It’s time to put our hashtags to work. This is what it means to be a community and this is what AGBU has taught me since I was a child.”
This year, Anna—seeing the personal in the political—raised her goal to $3,000 and exceeded it once again: “Since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, the AGBU Emergency Relief Fund for Syrian Armenians has been providing a lifeline to thousands of families through the support of global donors and the help of over one hundred volunteers in Syria. Most of these volunteers are friends I grew up with, went to school with or served the community with as part of the AGBU scouts movement and student association. These brave men and women who stayed back in Syria have been putting their lives in danger every day to make sure aid reaches those who need it most.”
With her annual birthday campaign, Anna hopes to inspire others to pledge their own life milestones. In the future, she plans to move the campaign out of the virtual sphere and expand into an annual charity event to help grow the fund and contribute to improving the country she loves:
“The AGBU Humanitarian Emergency Relief Fund for Syrian Armenians has long surpassed the usual activities of a regular aid organization. Today the program does not only aid those who stayed in Syria, but also makes sure to enable the next generation who had to interrupt their education and careers because of the war. The program is dear to my heart because it is contributing to the individual development of refugees to become the leaders of our community by giving them the chance to continue their education and careers abroad. The program has a vision for a better future for Syrian Armenians.”
Is your birthday coming up? Or maybe a special occasion, such as an anniversary or graduation? You can follow Anna’s example and mark your milestone with a pledge to the AGBU Emergency Relief Fund for Syrian Armenians or another AGBU program. With fall around the corner, you may also want to dedicate a walk, run or bike-a-thon. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.agbu.org/take-action for more information.
We look forward to partnering with you!