A Syrian man's plea reaches President Obama: 'I don’t want the world to think I’m over.'

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.

Image from Al Jazeera.


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.
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Women around the world are constantly bombarded by traditional and outdated societal expectations when it comes to how they live their lives: meet a man, get married, buy a home, have kids.

Many of these pressures often come from within their own families and friend circles, which can be a source of tension and disconnect in their lives.

Global skincare brand SK-II created a new campaign exploring these expectations from the perspective of four women in four different countries whose timelines vary dramatically from what their mothers, grandmothers, or close friends envision for them.

SK-II had Katie Couric meet with these women and their loved ones to discuss the evolving and controversial topic of marriage pressure and societal expectations.

SK-II

"What happens when dreams clash with expectations? We're all supposed to hit certain milestones: a degree, marriage, a family," Couric said before diving into conversation with the "young women who are defining their own lives while navigating the expectations of the ones who love them most."

Maluca, a musician in New York, explains that she comes from an immigrant family, which comes with the expectation that she should live the "American Dream."

"You come here, go to school, you get married, buy a house, have kids," she said.

Her mother, who herself achieved the "American Dream" with hard work and dedication when she came to the United States, wants to see her daughter living a stable life.

"I'd love for her to be married and I'd love her to have a big wedding," she said.

Chun Xia, an award-winning Chinese actress who's outspoken about empowering other young women in China, said people question her marital status regularly.

"I'm always asked, 'Don't you want to get married? Don't you want to start a family and have kids like you should at your age?' But the truth is I really don't want to at this point. I am not ready yet," she said.

In South Korea, Nara, a queer-identifying artist, believes her generation should have a choice in everything they do, but her mother has a different plan in mind.

SK-II

"I just thought she would have a job and meet a man to get married in her early 30s," Nara's mom said.

But Nara hopes she can one day marry her girlfriend, even though it's currently illegal in her country.

Her mother, however, still envisions a different life for her daughter. "Deep in my heart, I hope she will change her mind one day," she said.

Maina, a 27-year-old Japanese woman, explains that in her home country, those who aren't married by the time they're 25 to 30, are often referred to as "unsold goods."

Her mom is worried about her daughter not being able to find a boyfriend because she isn't "conventional."

"I really want her to find the right man and get married, to be seen as marriage material," she said.

After interviewing the women and their families, Couric helped them explore a visual representation of their timelines, which showcased the paths each woman sees her life going in contrast with what her relatives envision.

SK-II

"For each young woman, two timelines were created. One represents the expectations. The other, their aspirations," Couric explained. "There's often a disconnect between dreams and expectations. But could seeing the difference lead to greater understanding?"

The women all explored their timelines, which included milestones like having "cute babies," going back to school, not being limited by age, and pursuing dreams.

By seeing their differences side-by-side, the women and their families were able to partake in more open dialogue regarding the expectations they each held.

One of the women's mom's realized her daughter was lucky to be born during a time when she has the freedom to make non-traditional choices.

SK-II

"It looks like she was born in the right time to be free and confident in what she wants to do," she said.

"There's a new generation of women writing their own rules, saying, 'we want to do things our way,' and that can be hard," Couric explained.

The video ends with the tagline: "Forge your own path and choose the life you want; Draw your own timeline."

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