Mine is some kind of love, deep love. It is not like the love of Laila and Majnun, neither like Asli and Kerem’s, nor it is like Shereen and Farhad. This love is driven by the desire to be a drop in the ocean of kindness. Once you have caressed the head of an orphan, felt the smile of a orphan, heard the sigh of an orphan you can walk as long as you can, run as fast as you can, fly as high as you can. No one can stop the person who has a conscience and compassion.
A heart that is beating for kindness for quarter a century…
A charitable person who makes where he lives a centre of kindness and unite the differences in kindness…
Osman Gererm is a selfless man who has dedicated his life to doing good and only good…
Osman Gerem, who lives in Şanlıurfa, had this urge of kindness instilled in him when he was a child. His father was a farmer and he grew up in a big family. He counts this one memory from his childhood as the starting point of kindness in his life: “ I was only seven. When we were hanging out in the front porch with my dad our neighbour’s two sons showed up. They told my dad that they ran out of wheat and asked for one sack of wheat to make flour. We had only one sack of wheat left in our house. Yet my dad wanted to give it away to them without a moment’s hesitation. Realizing it our neighbour’s sons did not want to accept it. Then my dad knocked on the door of another one of our neighbours and lent some wheat just to make sure that the boys did not return home bare handed.”
Osman Gerem did not make much sense out of this incident but later realized that giving when you do not have much either is not everyone’s cup of tea. That moment when his father motioned to give away the last bag of wheat to his neighbour marked the start of acts of kindness in Gerem’s life. His father would gather all his children and advise them: “Look children, when you are breaking bread together give the bigger piece of bread to your friend. By doing that you make sure that your friend learns to do the same if not the first time surely the second time around.”
Kindness has taken root in Osman Gerem’s heart at young age. In 1978 he moved from village to the city centre in order to work in the constructions. He had made up his mind to do good no matter what kind of job he had. So he picked Fridays when it was off day for the construction as his charity day. Along with his three other friends also working on the construction, every Friday he would bring food to a needy family.
For years Osman Gerem and his friends would find out the needy families and do shopping for them during the day and deliver them to their house at night. Helping people that they do not know and getting blessings and well-wishing prayers from them made Osman Gerem and his friends so happy. Those days mean a lot for Osman Gerem as they are unforgettable. Osman Gerem continued his charity work in the furniture shop where he started working after his work on the constructions ended.
Together with his four colleagues from the neighbourhood where he worked they would get together and discuss what they could do for the families in need. Then with the approaching month of Ramadan they decided to distribute loaves of bread to the needy families. This charity work initiated by Osman Gerem and his friends continued for years. The supporters grew as they kept distributing bread. So this charity, group which they started as five people, expanded gradually.
After a while Osman Gerem could think of nothing but doing charity. If the supplies required for next day’s charity work is in place he can go to sleep. Other wise he would just rack his brain about what to do till morning. He handed over his furniture shop to his children in order to reach out to more people in need and to occupy himself with charity work only. First with the help of his children he set up spaces for co-curricular activities of children in their neighbourhood. Then in collaboration with expanding grassroots they built houses for homeless families, helped poor families repair their houses, opened Quran schools and refurbished them. Thus they reached out to nine thousand orphans and poor families. Gerem and his sons’ charity work continue to this day.
After the earthquake in Van they set to work and sent out nine aid trucks to the area. Gerem and his sons did not turn a blind eye to the troubles in the Muslim world while carrying out charities at home. They have also sent aid trucks to Afghanistan, Palestine. Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Somalia.
Aid to Syria
Syrian civil war, which erupted in 2011, turned the country into rubble in a short space of time. The entire cities were razed to the ground. Leaving their homes, belongings, and friends behind people fled to the Turkish border. Turkey opened the borders and welcomed them as guests. Turkish people have shown their hospitality right away. They embraced the Syrians who crossed the border and tried to deliver regular aid to those left in Syria.
According to the report by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2016 the registered Syrian refugee number in Turkey was 2.801.586. However unofficial sources report that Syrian refugees currently are about five million. According to the same UNCHR report Turkey is the number one country hosting the biggest number of refugees in the world. Turkey sets up tent cities for refugees where food, healthcare, security, social activities, education, prayer space, interpretation, cleaning and similar other services are offered for free.
Turkish people put hand in hand and started to share their bread and houses with the refugees. Locals brought aid to over fifty thousand tent cities and container cities set up across the country. All doors of kindness opened to make sure these destitute people, who were forced out of their country, lost their loved ones, relatives, homes and gardens, retain some form of normal life.
Osman Gerem describes the horror in Syria, “A great massacre is carried out before the rusty hearts, deaf ears and blind eyes of the world, and an entire nation is being wiped out.” We should not just watch the fire that engulfs our neighbour, he adds. Syria was our neighbour and it was impossible to stay put when it was on fire. Osman Gerem set off the road like an ant as he puts it. The only question in his mind was how to alleviate the suffering however little as he can.
In Şanlıurfa various aid campaigns started with the incentive from the mayor, logistic help from the municipality, support from government institutions, NGOs, and unions. Osman Gerem set to work. He has united 60 NGOs based in Urfa in a platform under his leadership. First they sent aid to the Syrians caught up in war in their home country. When the civil war turned into a massacre in Syria the constant flow of immigrants grew bigger. The number of Syrian refugees within Şanlıurfa rose to 600.000 and with Afghans and Iraqis it reached 650.000.
Thanks to the aid platform set up already the problems of refugees in Şanlıurfa were discussed. First of all basic needs were identified; housing, education and healthcare were the areas where they focused more. Osman Gerem, who works day and night in the platform, does not refer to them as Syrian, Afghan or Iraqi refugees but mukhajereen brothers and highlights he and his friends carry out the charity work with the diligence of al-Ansar.
Moreover, they opened clothes stores exclusively for Syrians living in Turkey where to this day 173.000 Syrians have walked in and picked up their clothes for free. The stores run by appointment. Children and women can come in at different hours and pick their clothes as they wish. Every Saturday they have fun activities for children at these stores which turn into fun fair where refugee children can escape a little from their troubles while having fun.
Osman Gerem repeatedly points out that a helping hand should be offered to Syrian mukhajereen: “In a society if people are hungry then do not expect peace. People who go hungry are likely to fall prey to dangerous stuff. They will either beg, or steal, or engage in immoral activities. If these crimes were committed in a place then there would be no peace, prosperity and happiness. If we want our society’s moral fibre and peace remain intact we have to make sure that our mukhajereen brothers do not go hungry. After all Allah entrusted them to us. Turkey is trying to set an example of humanity to the rest of the world with the aid work that it has undertaken. Everyone in our country is trying to carry out the task of al-Ansar as best as he can.”
“We have a soup kitchen in Syria and we distribute food there. After handing out the aids we headed toward half destroyed residences where families still live in order to give away chocolates and toys to the children. Then I saw a big crowd gathered around a cauldron. Women and children who have gathered in the crowd were picking up the potatoes cooking inside the cauldron. Each person was getting only one potato. Right there one woman said that she is eating something for the first time in three days.” His words stuck in his throat as he recounted the event.
What he has witnessed and experienced made him more sensitive to his surroundings. He is unable to sleep without meeting the needs of his mukhajereen brothers. He is putting his utmost efforts to make sure that children and babies did not go hungry.
This altruistic man reports that Şanlıurfa is the city accommodating the biggest number of refugees in the world. He would visit other cities to raise funds for the refugees in Şanlıurfa. He would meet mayors, NGOs, charitable businessmen and describe the situation in Şanlıurfa to ask support for their refugee brothers.
Syria and Memories
Osman Gerem has witnessed so much horror in Syria as he went there numerous times to deliver the aid in person. One of those days that he went to Syria to deliver aid with his colleagues a group of women stopped them. The women first thanked them for bringing in aid and asked baby formula for their babies as they went dry from the horror of the warplanes and deafening drones. Osman Gerem and his team of aid workers were so upset by these words and did what they asked for. But the incident did not end there. One of the women held out the baby in her arms and pleaded, “Here take her so that she might survive. Here she will either be killed or die from hunger!” Her words still ring in Osman Gerem’s ears.
Little Girl Asia
Osman Gerem loved Asia like his own child. When their house was shelled and her two legs were broken they brought little Asia from Syria to Şanlıurfa. She received treatment in Şanlıurfa for a while. But the doctors decided that her legs should be amputated. Osman Gerem somehow heard about the situation and visited her in the hospital. When he asked the doctors if there is a way out of this they responded that her legs might have the chance to heal with treatment in Istanbul or Ankara. Upon learning this Osman Gerem immediately took action and called a charitable friend of his to ask for sponsorship. His friend arranged a hospital in Istanbul for Asia’s treatment and covered all her hospital fees. After a long treatment Asia’s legs were saved. Asia was only one of the eight hundred and fifty thousand disabled people in Syria. Luckily she came across a charitable kind-hearted man like Osman Gerem and was able to walk again thanks to his help.
Osman Gerem began helping drug addicts and vulnerable people in prisons after he heard an incident. One day his friend told him about a woman whose husband was in prison. Once her husband’s sentence was confirmed her neighbours were estranged from her and kids no longer played with her children. Osman Gerem was so touched by this situation. What was the children’s fault? If they were isolated from society they would grow up with grudge toward society. That is how he took the prisoners’ families to his agenda and started aid work catering to them. In collaboration with his colleagues and the prosecutors they started to help both the prisoners inside and their families outside.
They have set up a committee with the Green Crescent to reduce substance abuse and other dangerous addictions. Osman Gerem tries to work on all problem areas of the society. If the rehabilitation of alcohol and drug addicts were going to take place in another town he would go to the extent of giving the addicts traveling there for rehabilitation per diem. His point of view is that saving a person is better than everything else in the world.
Osman Gerem is nicknamed “Aid Robot” in Şanlıurfa because of his extensive charity work. He regards all acts of kindness as a tree planted in the hereafter. Therefore his passion never wanes. “On the contrary grows bigger,” he says and adds “someone who has tasted the sweet joy of doing good and being kind will never stop doing it.” When asked what kindness means to him he answers:
“Mine is some kind of love, deep love. It is not like the love of Leila and Majnun, neither like Asli and Kerem’s, nor it is like Shireen and Farhad. This love is driven by the desire to be a drop in the ocean of kindness. Once you have caressed the head of an orphan, felt the smile of a orphan, heard the sigh of an orphan you can walk as long as you can, run as fast as you can, fly as high as you can. No one can stop the person who has a conscience and compassion.