Students send support to Syria


Rebecca Turnbull

Treasurer of Marshall’s Amnesty International chapter Kristin Wallace writes information for the letter-writing campaign on the blackboard in room 529 of Smith Hall.

While his classmates at Wheeling Park High School had their eyes on computer screens and homework, Derek Zelkowski had his eyes on the world. News from events going on in different countries and the history surrounding those events captivated him throughout his education, prompting him to pursue a career in foreign aid.

“A lot of that news, unfortunately, is about suffering and oppression,” Zelkowski said. “I’ve always wanted to get involved in that and make a difference.”

Now a freshman international affairs major at Marshall University, Zelkowski became the secretary of Marshall’s chapter of Amnesty International to get more involved in helping people of other countries.

Zelkowski said he found his first personal project for Marshall’s Amnesty International group when he attended a workshop Jan. 28 where Syrian refugees shared their experiences with students and faculty.

“With most issues, you read about them in textbooks or on the news and you’re kind of detached from it,” Zelkowski said. “Of course you care about it, but there’s that, ‘This is happening thousands of miles away,’ aspect to it. But when you hear people actually talk about it who have gone through the problem and that are seeing that carnage and that violence, it does move you to want to improve their situation.”

Zelkowski immediately asked the presenters what he and his fellow students could do to help solve the refugee crisis. Zelkowski said the refugees told him he could help by writing letters to congressmen and legislators urging them to provide Syrian refugees with better opportunities to enter the country and the state of West Virginia.

Marshall’s Amnesty International group composed letters with student volunteers on Wednesday in Smith Hall room 529 to send to legislators in the state and national government in hopes of encouraging the United States’ participation in accepting Syrians in need of refuge.

Vice president of Marshall’s Amnesty International chapter Jada Williams said the organization decided to take on the campaign due to the government’s lack of progress in helping with the Syrian refugee crisis that has been taking place for nearly five years now.

“The issue in Syria is getting worse,” Williams said. “And it’s getting worse on our part, because we aren’t necessarily taking steps towards accepting refugees as they come in. So we really want there to be a way for them to find refuge, when everything they have is in shambles.”

Junior political science major Abdul Mazheri said he attended the letter-writing campaign to improve the terrible conditions in Syria that he knows all too well as a son of Libyan natives and a friend of Syrian citizens.

“It’s similar to what happened in Libya, how we had a war and people were dying,” Mazheri said. “It’s the same way that I felt, seeing people who have lived in that area, how life is there and how people are fed up with living under a dictatorship.”

Mazheri said he hopes Amnesty International’s campaign will encourage others to care more about what is going on in the world and work to solve international issues.

“It’s kind of ridiculous, because it could easily be resolved,” Mazheri said. “It’s just there’s no effort. That’s why nothing has been happening lately.”

President of Marshall’s Amnesty International chapter Tori May said more students need to stay up to date on global issues and write to legislators for the sake of those who cannot speak for themselves.

“A lot of times, we’ll feel sorry for ourselves because we have a homework assignment or something,” May said. “But with these cases, there are people who don’t have homes. Its people’s lives at stake. You might think writing one letter doesn’t make a difference, but we’ve seen in the past in our letter-writing campaigns that it does.”

May said those involved with Marshall’s chapter have been able to contribute to many Amnesty International issues facing the nation and the international community.

Most recently, May said about 10,000 letters were written by different Amnesty International groups to the government demanding reform for prolonged solitary confinement issues. Their efforts eventually resulted in the successful release of Albert Woodfox, an inmate who had been kept in solitary confinement for nearly four decades.

The group also wrote letters for Amnesty International’s “My Body My Rights” campaign at the letter-writing event Wednesday.

Marshall’s Amnesty International chapter will host a panel on sexual reproduction rights for the “My Body My Rights” campaign at 6:30 p.m. April 12 in room 2w22 of the Memorial Student Center. All students, faculty and staff are welcome to attend.

Rebecca Turnbull can be contacted at [email protected]