A 14-year-old Missoula girl who is living in Europe for a year used an online fundraising site to buy and deliver more than $2,000 worth of supplies to Syrian refugees.
Zoe Wilson has been living in Ljubljana, Slovenia, with her family for a little less than a month after her father Seth was invited by the Slovenian Forest Service to work on a year-long brown bear research and conservation project.
Seth said his daughter, since arriving in Europe, had been following news coverage of the Syrian civil war refugee crisis in the continent and decided she wanted to do something to help the refugees who had made it to Hungary.
She created an online website called Relief for Refugees using Fundraise.com to accept donations to buy shoes, food, blankets, sleeping bags and other goods for displaced Syrians. In less than a week, Wilson’s site brought in more than $1,000, her original goal. She ended up getting over $2,000 in donations.
Wilson said about two-thirds of the money raised came from Missoula.
“I think that it’s pretty amazing, how even though I am across the world, the Missoula community is so ready to help,” Wilson said. “Also, I think people have a hard time knowing which organizations to support, and with me going right to Budapest and buying supplies directly, they know their money will be used well.”
During the past weekend, Wilson and her father drove three hours to the capital of Hungary to purchase supplies. She said she worked with a volunteer organization called Migration Aid that helped her to distribute the goods.
At one stop at a train station, Wilson spent $500 to buy 41 train tickets refugees could use to travel to a city on the border with Austria where they could walk across into the other country to seek asylum.
She also bought 32 pairs of walking shoes and passed them out to refugees who showed up at one of the camps where Migration Aid was working. She focused on finding children who were in need of new shoes and clothing.
In one situation in particular on Sunday, a mother had come up to her and pointed out her children, ages 3, 7 and 11 years.
“She pointed at their shoes (which were) tattered so much that I could see the boy's toes sticking out,” she said.
Wilson went to the supply tent and came back not only with new shoes for the children, but for their mother as well.
“She held them for a moment and then thanked me over and over again. In this moment, I felt that I could see a parent simply putting her children first, trying to make a better and safer life for them,” she said.
Wilson said she hopes increased attention to the refugee issue will lead to the U.S. granting asylum to more Syrians.
“Currently, the U.S. is only granting asylum to 1,500 people. Germany is accepting 800,000. This is a world problem, and as long as the situation in Syria stays as awful, people will be leaving and seeking asylum,” she said.
She acknowledged that despite the donations and efforts of many people to help the refugees, there is still a lot of work left to do.
“I am proud of the work we accomplished, but there are still hundreds that need help, hundreds of feet that need shoes, hundreds of backs that need warmth, and thousands of people that need your help as they try to make a new life,” Wilson said.