Meet the toy smuggler of Aleppo

by Dan Stockman

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With the battle over banning Muslim immigration raging in the courts, in the halls of power and sometimes even in the streets, it’s a good time for a reminder of why refugees are risking everything to flee Syria.

It’s not to steal American jobs. It’s not to spread Sharia Law across the globe. It’s not to bring terror to our shores.

They are fleeing the terror of ISIS. They are fleeing the terror of civil war. They are fleeing the terror of their own government willing to sacrifice its citizens to stay in power.

They are fleeing death and destruction on an unholy scale.

And as millions of people around the world are helping in any way they can, whether it’s urging their own governments to welcome refugees, contributing money or supplies, or even opening their own homes, there is one man who’s efforts are as inspiring as they are personal.

He is the toy smuggler of Aleppo.

Featured in September in a moving video by AJ+, Rami Adham is Syrian-Finnish and has lived in Helsinki for decades. He grew up in Aleppo, though, and now visiting his hometown requires being smuggled into the country and risking death every day he is there.

But he has done exactly that 30 times, mainly so he can bring toys — and with them a spark of joy. Yes, he also brings food and badly needed supplies, but the toys — as evidenced by the children’s faces in the video — are special.

The money he's raised back home in Finland has helped fund four schools in Syria, and when the children in Syria see him coming with his signature green bag, they shout, "Uncle Toy!" and "Uncle Finland!"

Last week, Adham wrote about his trips — especially the most recent one — in the Huffington Post. Because of the siege, he was not able to get into Aleppo but was able to deliver toys and supplies to refugees who are from Aleppo and sheltering in Idlib, Syria. 

His report is a stark one. While we argue and debate and go to court, Syrians dig their dead children out of rubble. They try to survive, though they fear there may be no future to survive for. He writes:

In America, people are up in arms about the proposed ban of Syrian refugees under the new president, Donald Trump. They march on the streets and argue in the courts, debating and protesting about the legal, the ethical.

But in Syria, it doesn’t really matter. Not for the people I meet. Many barely tune into the news either because they don’t have access or because they have more immediate things to worry about. Many have lost friends, family and loved ones. Others are separated or missing the home that is now destroyed.

… People here don’t really have a choice at leaving ― they are pretty much on lockdown. Going all the way to America is the last thing on their minds.

There are times when it feels like there is nothing we can do. Or that even our very best is such a small contribution against an ocean of pain that it will never make a difference. I've said many times in this space that that is not true, but I know well how it can feel that way. And it is at those times that the smallest of things somehow seem more important than ever. For me, at least, that is the case with the toys Adham gives away. Yes, they may be just a drop of joy for a child, but sometimes even that little bit is enough to bring hope.

Adham writes that the toy sharing started almost by accident: He was preparing for his first trip and was only going to deliver money, but when explaining to his children, his then-3-year-old daughter could not understand how children could have nothing, not even toys. The next day, as he finished packing, she brought him her toys and Barbie dolls, asking him to take them to the children with none. He did, and writes that it was the best thing he's ever done.

"No matter what happens in the coming months and years, I will never stop making trips to my country, even if it means risking my life to do so," Adham wrote. "I will continue working there until the day that I am no longer needed. And the rest of the international community should do the same."

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]