One man's touching story inspired the president to leave a Facebook comment welcoming him to the U.S.
It's not every day the president leaves a personal comment on your Facebook post.
But that's exactly what he did in response to a recent photo posted to the Humans of New York Facebook page. The photos, highlighting the story of a man and his family's struggle through Syria, Turkey, and soon, Michigan, is part of HONY photographer Brandon Stanton's series "The Syrian Americans."
Just watching the news, it's easy to think of Syrian refugees as some abstract concept, but there's so much more to their story.
That's especially clear in the case of the story that President Obama commented on, which follows the life of a Syrian man who simply wouldn't give up in the face of adversity.
The story is told in seven parts, each with an accompanying photo, and the values he demonstrates — hard work, dedication, love, ambition — transcend nationalities. These are core human values, and it shouldn't be hard to appreciate and empathize with someone who is so emblematic of them.
"I was determined to become a scientist through my own personal will," the man's story begins. "I graduated high school with the third highest scores in all of Syria. I worked construction in the evenings to pay for my school. Even as a teenager, I was being given construction sites to manage. I graduated from university at the top of my class. I was given a scholarship to pursue my PhD. I suffered for my dream. I gave everything. If I had 100 liras, I would spend it on a book. My ultimate goal was to become a great scientist and make a lasting contribution to humanity."
The man's story is filled with dangers many of us can hardly imagine. Every aspect of his life in Syria was under attack.
His home? Destroyed. His wife and his daughter? Both killed by a missile. Upon moving to Turkey, his work went underappreciated, and he became so financially unstable that the country was simply no longer habitable for him. Back into the refugee pool he went, where he learned that, this time, he was headed to the United States.
What's most remarkable, however, is the man's resolve to continue contributing to the world after all he's been through.
"I still think I have a chance to make a difference in the world," he tells HONY after explaining that he's been diagnosed with stomach cancer. "I have several inventions that I’m hoping to patent once I get to America. One of my inventions is being used right now on the Istanbul metro."
"Welcome to your new home. You're part of what makes America great." — President Obama, on Facebook
As for what he hopes to get out of his experience in his new American home, it's pretty simple: "I just hope that it’s safe and that it’s a place where they respect science. I just want to get back to work. I want to be a person again. I don’t want the world to think I’m over. I’m still here."
And it was after reading this man's story of bravery, that the president offered his personal welcome to the U.S.
"As a husband and a father, I cannot even begin to imagine the loss you've endured," writes President Obama in a comment attached to the final photo of the series. "You and your family are an inspiration. I know that the great people of Michigan will embrace you with the compassion and support you deserve. Yes, you can still make a difference in the world, and we're proud that you'll pursue your dreams here. Welcome to your new home. You're part of what makes America great."
An estimated 9 million Syrians have been displaced since the start of their country's civil war.
Al Jazeera recently published a graphic showing the distribution of refugees out of Syria. Of an estimated 9 million Syrian refugees, what's most concerning are the 6.5 million people within the country itself that have been displaced. Not that there's ever a good time to be without a home, but now is just about the worst.
How many others like the man are out there? How much potential and warmheartedness exists in the world?
Where you are born, who you are born to, what religion you were taught as a child, and countless other factors beyond your control determine so many of life's basics. For those of us who've lucked out in various ways, we should try to empathize with others.
We should welcome these families to the country with open arms because, as the president said, they're "part of what makes America great."
And how is it fair that out of the sheer luck or misfortune of being born in one country over another that we should be able to turn away families like this? If you're an American citizen, it's likely because you were born here. As the result of that luck, you have the comfort of not living in a war zone, not fearing missiles coming through your windows, and not facing the other hardships unique to the people of Syria.