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Hungarian Embassy gala benefits Syrian refugee children

By Karin Zeitvogel

Patrons raised thousands of dollars at a recent gala dinner and auction at the Hungarian Embassy to help Syrian refugee children in Jordan go to school again.

These kids have food and a roof over their heads, “but they don’t have money to provide for their education,” said Shahin Mafi, founder of the Azar Foundation for Children of the World, which organized the Dec. 9 fundraiser.

“We as Americans need to help those children because what’s happening to them now is going to affect not only their future but the future of our world,” said Mafi, a longtime advocate of orphaned and underprivileged children who established her foundation in 2003.

From left, Lena Alfi, director of strategic partnerships for the Middle East Children’s Institute; Réka Szemerkényi, Hungary’s ambassador to the United States; and Shahin Mafi, founder of the Azar Foundation for Children of the World. Photos: Neshan Naltchayan

Children comprise nearly a third of the 1.5 million Syrians who have fled to Jordan since Syria’s civil war began almost six years ago, according to a report published in late December by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

“Most of them have already suffered five years of interrupted schooling,” the report says. “This crisis seems likely to leave a generation of young people without prospects or any ability to build a prosperous future for their home countries.”

Participants paid $250 for tickets to the event, though it was unclear exactly how much money the gala raised. Proceeds will benefit the Middle East Children’s Institute (MECI), which works to build stability in the Middle East by educating women and children.

Internationally renowned opera singer Lubana Al Quntar, left, and Réka Szemerkényi, Hungary’s ambassador to the United States.

Réka Szemerkényi, Hungary’s ambassador to the United States, said the fundraiser served “a very important purpose” for the two regions hurt most by the refugee crisis — the Middle East and Europe.

“In 2015, Hungary was under great pressure because of the migration wave that is still coming into Europe, and we want and need a common answer to the crisis,” Szemerkenyi said. “It is our firm belief that the international community has a responsibility to try to give these people their country back, and we want to contribute to finding a solution to the tensions in the Middle East, and to re-establishing stability in the region.”

Around 100 guests, including two D.C.-based ambassadors — Albania’s Floreta Luli-Faber and Botswana’s David John Newman — and top State Department official Caroline Croft dined on Persian and international cuisine. Syrian dramatic coloratura soprano Lubana al Quntar and Egyptian oum player and composer Ramy Adly provided musical entertainment.

Egyptian composer and musician Ramy Adly performs traditional Arabic music on the oud — a guitar-shaped Middle Eastern instrument — during a Dec. 9 fundraiser at the Hungarian Embassy for Syrian refugee children.

“As a Syrian and a refugee myself, I feel like I’m on a mission to raise money for the children of Syria,” Quntar told us in between sets. “I’m afraid for these children because, without an education, what will their future hold? I have to do something to help, and my voice is the best tool I have.”

After dinner, bidding opened on various prizes including a safari in Botswana, a roundtrip flight on Turkish Airlines and an original Albanian art piece, in a not-so-silent auction led by event organizer Jan du Plain. Money raised at the auction was sent weeks later to support MECI educational efforts for refugee children in Jordan.

Set up in 2003, the Azar Foundation for Children of the World partners with one nonprofit each year to help kids in need. In 2015, it raised funds for Bolivian street children, and this year will assist youths with mental issues in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Karin Zeitvogel is a regular contributor to The Washington Diplomat.




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