The Trip That Inspired My Social Enterprise: Next Page

The Trip That Inspired My Social Enterprise: Next Page


September 25, 2020

I looked down to see the deep blue, crystal clear water. The smell of saltwater in the air calmed me as I was excited to visit the little Greek island - Chios. As the boat approached the port, my heart sank — a port full of desperate people looking for a new life.

It matched a scene from CNN news-what we saw in the pictures became a reality. When we arrived at the port, dozens of people were in line. We saw people of all ages with one common trait — they were all refugees from Syria.

Some looked hungry. Some looked exhausted. Some sat with their few belongings in bags.

Some sang. Some prayed. Some kept silent.

The Elderly had sorrow in the eyes, staring at the sea with memories of the abandoned homeland. Kids played with deflated balls, broken plastic cars, reusable water bottles, rocks, old books- not understanding their situation. What we saw in the pictures became a reality.

We drove to the villages on the mountain tops displayed as scattered pieces of a story waiting to be assembled, blue flowers fell from window sills like waterfalls- the beautiful island contrasted the sadness we saw on the refugees’ faces.

As we left the island, I noticed the world's beauty, while awful events happen to innocent people. Good and evil, guilt and innocence, beauty, and ugliness live side by side.

A New Perspective:

The sight of seeing hundreds of refugees trying to reach shore after being capsized, the screaming and yelling from moms trying to bring their children to land, and the kids yelling to locate their family resonated with me. When I went back to Turkey that night, I kept thinking about the privilege I have of feeling safe and having a secure future. The times that I complained about going to school, the terrible food we ate there and sports events getting rained out seemed so big at the time, but now seems so small.

After seeing people's struggle to seek human rights let alone the privileges I take for granted helped me see the bigger picture. The bigger picture allowed me to use my agency, raise awareness and share my eye-opening experience.

The Importance of Seeing the Bigger Picture:

For me, seeing the bigger picture allows me to be grateful for what I have and use my self-awareness to help others while improving my listening skills. Although it took years to understand that if I failed a test it wouldn't be the end of the world, I saw a drastic change in my mental health. I would freak out less over school work, sports games, extracurricular, etc. and valued hanging out with friends and family much more.

Enjoying and valuing human relationships can open doors to new passions and grow your network of people, and broaden your horizons. In 7th grade, I moved from a 250-person school to a 1,200 person middle school. Like many students, I was nervous about making friends, finding my classes, and getting involved in community activities.

When I walked in, I sat next to a girl who I met during the new student orientation weeks before the first day of school. Before moving, I didn't have a strong passion for a certain field however I knew I wanted to dabble into politics and international affairs.

As I grew closer to the girl, she encouraged me to join language clubs, creative writing clubs and soon a global giving club. From the clubs, I met friends who later on became volunteers for my social enterprise, teachers who broaden my networking to other non-profits, and mentors who have given me different perspectives to the meaning of life.

Growing my network allowed me to become friends with refugees as well. Over the summer, I learned about a digital exchange program from my guidance counselor that connects teens from MENA countries and America to talk about global issues. There, I met a friend who fled from Somalia to Yemen due to famine and violence. Seeing photos of people without family and friends because they die on their journey and hearing stories of people fleeing made me value my family and friends more.

Being Friends with a Refugee:

Being friends with a refugee is the same as having any person as a friend, but I have never seen such tenacity, positivity, gratitude, and acceptance of others and ideas in a person I have crossed paths with within the 15 years of my life.

I met Mohammed the first week of this program during the ice-breaker week. Each of the participants had to post a video on padlet to introduce themselves. We all said our names, where we are from, social issues we are passionate about, what we want to be when we grow up, and what we want to learn from others living in different countries.

After we watched each other's videos, we connected through telegram and began talking. We talked once every week and soon it turned into every day. Sometimes we would talk about racism, islamophobia, global warming, gun violence, the role ICE plays in America and other times we would talk about the food we ate that day, our least favorite music, our dream vacation and our favorite things about the countries we live in. Healthy debates were frequent for us as we loved hearing the opposing sides perspective and make fun of tweets our nation's leaders had tweeted that day.

(Example of the functional pottery)

My Social Enterprise: Next Page

My social enterprise, Next Page, donates money to refugees in Yemen, Tanzania, and Lebanon. We raise funds by selling functional pottery on our instagram and receive items through drives. Although the social enterprise is brand new, it has allowed teens to gain leadership and connected the high school with the community more.

The teen led non-profit gives many ways to for people to get involved which was something that I saw was lacking in the community. After having an article written about us in the town newspaper, I began to create a volunteer group. Many people decided on whether they wanted to recruit artists, plan events, design the website, create art, run the instagram account, or reach out to news outlets.

People who can't commit to volunteering buy the artwork knowing some money is going directly to refugees and the other portion of money to support the artists. Hosting zooms to pitch our ideas, having people talking to refugees from Yemen, and news outlets asking to write about us has helped my community and other communities come together.

Because we have recently started, I have been able to see what it's like working inside a non-profit and the amount of work it takes. My personal connection to a cause that is effecting 70.8 million people worldwide has instilled a deeper connection to my social enterprise which has allowed me to spread awareness for the refugee crisis.

Ela Eryilmaz
20k+ pageviews

Writer since Jul, 2020 · 8 published articles

Ela is a Turkish-American Junior attending High School in Massachusetts. She loves to participate in political campaigns to further her knowledge about social issues. She is the founder of a social enterprise, Next Page, that helps refugees around the world. Ela enjoys learning about international relations, languages, and history.