Zakat Foundation, Khalil Center to Bolster Syrian Refugee Mental Health Care

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Gaziantep, Turkey, Feb 28, 2018 — Zakat Foundation has linked its pioneering Khalil Center professional mental health project in America to its Syrian refugee psychological care programs in Turkey.

“I was incredibly pleased to see that behavioral health was a key component of treatment at the clinics,” says Psychologist Hooman Keshavarzi, Khalil Center’s founding director. The professional community wellness program has six U.S. clinics that have gained acclaim for integrating Islam and modern psychological practices.

Keshavarzi, a doctor of psychology and licensed psychotherapist, visited three Zakat Foundation facilities in Gaziantep, a refugee hub near the Syrian border, February 18-19.

He also met with providers at Sigharuna Kibaruna Clinic in Antakya. Its Arabic name, meaning “Our Little Ones Are Our Venerable Ones,” rings true with its staggering monthly load of 1,800 therapy sessions for 300 children with mental and developmental delays and injuries.

The trip enabled Keshavarzi to assess how Khalil Center’s mental health specialists can work with Zakat Foundation to optimize Syrian refugee psychological treatment, increase the supply of expert providers, and maximize resources to meet the overwhelming demands.

A Mental Health Calamity

“The mental health disaster relief needed is immense. There is a shortage of experts, with several barriers for access to services, such as language,” says Keshavarzi.

Gaziantep’s refugee population lives a psychological nightmare. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) rampages among children and adults, including more than 1,000 rape victims.

Keshavarzi is quick to point to Zakat Foundation professionals’ “incredible new level” of services. “Some of the refugees they found were giving birth in parks, stranded, homeless.”

“I don’t think we realize the impact of our dollars in such places and conditions. Our sadaqah-charity – that we might simply put in a Zakat Foundation box – maybe saving the life of someone.

“Yet because we are so distant from the actual experience, and we can only see the box, it can generate a feeling of indifference.”

Zakat Foundation’s Intervention

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All Zakat Foundation’s Gaziantep residential buildings – serving hundreds of mothers and orphaned children – have bottom-floor health clinics, with a special focus on the tremendous psychological distress of Syrian refugees.

“Mental health is one of the greatest needs we see in our relief work,” says Halil Demir, Zakat Foundation director. “The need could not be greater now among Syrians.

“But the crisis is not just among terribly afflicted people like refugees and war victims, it is worldwide. Right here in America, it is rampant, which is why we began supporting Khalil Center in 2010.”

Seeing It Firsthand Is Life-Changing

Interacting with refugees and witnessing Zakat Foundation’s work with them left an indelible impression on Keshavarzi.

“What I saw was immense struggle and suffering, while at the same time incredible resilience. Faith kept these people strong. Faith brought Turks and Syrians together.

“Though they had horror stories…they continued to pray in terrible conditions. And it was heart-warming to hear how Zakat Foundation was there for them – truly an answer to their prayers.”

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Keshavarzi speaks here professionally. Khalil Center’s faith-based treatment to mental healthcare is gaining momentum among America’s mental health practitioners, taking ‘psychology’ forward by going back to the word’s literal Greek origins, ‘the study of the soul’ (psykhe, soul; logia, study of).

The Syrian refugees he observed expressed profound value for a treatment method that combined their faith with modern techniques of therapeutic intervention.

“It was a meaningful experience for me to see the incredible piety and humanity despite inhumane conditions suffered. The appreciation [the refugees] have for Zakat Foundation because of it is great, and [so was] how much honor they showed me because of their gratitude for it.”

This spirit begins with the people serving and treating the refugees.

“Zakat Foundation staff were so sincere and had so much ikhlas [purity of intention in one’s deeds] that they attributed all this help to God, and were pleased to help.”

A Reminder for Us All

Keshavarzi offers us a message.

“This was, indeed, an eye-opening experience to see the incredible work being done by the Zakat Foundation – and how much more support Zakat Foundation needs to keep going, to try to scramble to meet the incredible need and gaps of services to be provided.

“We’ve become accustomed to hearing relief appeals. Not seeing it with our own eyes can harden our hearts and blind our sights.”

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