Seven photos, an idea and a top Facebook comment led Daniel Kang, an LSA senior and Troy, Mich. resident, to raise more than $15,000 on a GoFundMe page for a Syrian refugee coming to his hometown.
Kang’s efforts to help the unnamed refugee were eventually recognized by Brandon Stanton, the creator of the Humans of New York blog and Facebook page.
On Dec. 8, Stanton posted a seven-part photo story to Facebook as part of his collection of 12 interviews he had with Syrian refugee families during his trip to Turkey and Jordan. The interview told the story of an elderly refugee who was once a successful scientist before the war.
Before he sought refuge in Turkey, the man said his home was destroyed and many members of his family were killed. The man said he is unable to work in Turkey and has been diagnosed with stomach cancer. His story drew sympathy and comment from hundreds of thousands of people, including President Barack Obama. After seeing this refugee’s story, Kang decided to start a GoFundMe page to make this man’s transition to a new life in Troy a little easier.
Many refugees from Syria fleeing violence in war-torn will likely make their homes in Michigan, though Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has called for a pause on accepting new refugees following recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Lebanon and elsewhere.
Kang created the page the same day the photos were posted and said the page grew more popular when his friend posted the page’s link to her top comment on one of the photos.
Kang said he started the page because he recognized that many people get very upset over the refugee’s stories, but few took action to help the man and his family.
“A big reason why I started this is because I feel like people get so heartbroken over the refugee stories and then when it comes down to it, some people at the moment want to help but then afterwards they don’t care about it,” Kang said. “I wanted to jump in while people were prepared to help and give them the opportunity that they could do something.”
Actor Edward Norton had a similar idea. On Saturday afternoon, Stanton posted on the HONY page that Norton had contacted him asking to start a fundraiser for this same scientist. Stanton included a link to Norton’s fundraiser and commented on the post recognizing Kang for his fundraising efforts.
Kang said he did not expect to be recognized by Stanton.
“I didn’t really think I did much, so to get a shout-out from (the) Humans of New York (creator), who I think is one of the most influential people in the world was pretty great,” Kang said. “The amount of people who had nice things to say was really foreign. I still don’t feel like I did that much … I can see that people will think that I’m doing good in the world so I really appreciate all of the support.”
Kang wrote in a top-ranked Facebook comment that he is trying to get in contact with Norton and has been in contact with other people and organizations who are also trying to give the scientist a better life.
Kang has also been working with the Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, a Troy-based nonprofit that helps refugees coming to the area find jobs, housing and translators if needed. If Kang cannot give the money to the scientist, he said he would donate the money to the Lutheran Social Services of Michigan.
Kang said he still hopes that the man will want to meet him when he arrives in Michigan.
This refugee’s particular story touched Kang because the scientist said that he hopes Troy will be a place that respects science.
“I think that Troy … except for maybe Ann Arbor is the best place (for) somebody who wants to raise a family that’s from another region and is interested in science,” Kang said. “It’s a very welcoming town, it’s very diverse and the education system is very good and they’re always pushing for bigger and greater things.”
Kang said he hopes that people will support refugees even if their stories are not made popular by the media.
“One big thing that I’m worried about regarding future donations and fundraisers is that I feel that people are much more concerned about doing good for somebody that they can relate to even if they’ve never met them, than doing good for the masses in general. I think that it’s a problem with the media and the way of making the masses unrelatable whereas Humans of New York always gives them a face, gives them a story.” Kang said. “I think in the future people should look towards acknowledging that everybody has their own story regardless of how nameless they are.”