For a Syrian refugee, calling family back in Syria isn’t necessarily easy—in some areas, the electricity can go out for days at a time, making it impossible to charge a phone or use a computer. Some people don’t even have phones. So in honor of Mother’s Day—March 21 in Syria—one refugee came up with a solution: Refugees can call a hotline, leave a message for their moms, and it will be broadcast on national radio in Syria.
“For Syrians, Mother’s Day is like a sacred day,” says Mouddar Kouli, who came to Sweden from Syria last October. “It’s such a big deal in Syria.”
Kouli works as an intern at the Stockholm-based creative agency Åkestam Holst, which asked him to help create a campaign for refugees. He realized that radio could be a good way to reconnect families.
“When people don’t have electricity, they usually leave their houses, go on the street, use public transportation, or drive their cars to other places, elsewhere, anywhere. . . . When they do, they listen to the radio,” he says.
The agency partnered with Refugee Phones, a nonprofit that gives donated smartphones and some free minutes to newly arrived refugees. The organization helped set up a hotline that anyone can call to leave a message. “It’s an answering machine that will answer you and say, please record a love message for your mom after the tone,” says Kouli.
It’s a Swedish number, but anyone can call from around the world—and some people have even started calling in from inside Syria.
At first, Kouli says the refugees he spoke with were hesitant to use the hotline. “People were a bit scared to call in,” he says. “They were like, this is weird—they’re not used to people being nice to them. Understandably, taking this whole trip and going though all these difficult places, everybody’s treating them like they’re outcasts and not being nice to them. Then they come to Sweden and Sweden is very nice . . . they’re not used to this treatment.”
Kouli is lucky: He has easier ways to call. “My mom is in Damascus,” he says. “I’m a bit luckier than others, because in Damascus itself you have better conditions—you get electricity cut only three times a day. That means I know exactly when to call her and she will have Internet, and I can call her on WhatsApp.”
To help those who don’t have such an easy way to connect, he reached out to fellow refugees, offering phones and calling cards to those who didn’t have a way to call the hotline. People can leave messages anonymously but are encouraged to give enough details that a mother can recognize a son or daughter.
The campaign bought ad time on Fuse FM, a radio station popular with the mom demographic in Syria. For the whole week leading up to Mother’s Day, a minute of each commercial break—24 times a day—will be devoted to refugees sending messages home.