Student makes sleeping bags for refugees in Middle East In this Oct. 6, 2017 photo, Vick Liu unrolls his TravlerPack, a lightweight sleeping bag, outside the Kresge Auditorium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/Collin Binkley)
Student makes sleeping bags for refugees in Middle East
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It wasn't enough to send warm wishes to refugees in Syria. Vick Liu wanted to send them actual warmth.

Liu is a sophomore. He goes to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is creating a new line of sleeping bags. They are designed for refugees. These refugees have few other options to keep warm. This is during harsh winters in the Middle East. Liu was an avid backpacker in his youth. He came up with the idea last year. This came after reading about Syrian families. They were struggling to survive freezing temperatures. This was after fleeing the country's civil war.

"The only way for them to create heat is through fire and through blankets," said Liu. He is 19-years-old. He is a finance and political science student. "It's tough to stay warm at 15 degrees Fahrenheit with a couple blankets."

Freezing temperatures in Syria have been blamed for causing hypothermia. The cold has caused some refugee deaths in recent years. The United Nations says up to 4 million refugees in the Middle East face "extreme risk" this winter. Only a quarter are expected to get assistance preparing for the cold.

Liu wanted to help. He and a team of five classmates recently raised $17,000. They will use this money to manufacture 250 bedrolls. They will send them to resettlement areas. Those are in northwest Syria. They'll be distributed in December. They will be given out by Nu Day Syria. It is a nonprofit group. It is based in New Hampshire. It provides medical supplies. And it provides everyday items. It gives them to refugees in Syria.

The group partnered with Liu after hearing from families who feared a repeat of last year's winter. It was one of the worst in recent history. Workers say even a sleeping bag can make a major difference for refugees. They had to flee home without warm clothing. Many can't afford fuel for gas heaters.

"We have 8-year-old children saying, 'I don't want my brother to die,'" said Huda Alawa. 

Alawa is the grants and logistics coordinator for the group. "It's a very tangible fear. It's something they've seen happen already."

The project joins other efforts to help refugees through the winter. This includes programs by the U.N. and other nonprofits. They distribute blankets and warm clothing.

Liu's work began last year in his dorm room. That is where the Los Angeles native crafted a prototype. He used a sewing machine and materials. They were stashed under his bed.

His final product is called the TravlerPack. It is a lightweight sleeping bag. It is filled with duck down insulation. It can handle temperatures as low as 15 degrees. Each one costs about $50 to make and distribute.

Some of the design is based on Liu's experience as an Eagle Scout. He grew up backpacking in cold conditions. But other features were suggested by Syrian refugees. Liu met them through a friend. These features include a waterproof pocket for travel documents. They include a shoulder strap for portability. Multiple bags can be zipped together to create a larger blanket for families.

"I made it a point not to assume what their needs were, but to go out and find out," said Liu. He tested one of his early models by zipping into it overnight during a Boston snowstorm.

Liu's team aims to send another 1,000 to refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. This will be after the first sleeping bags are delivered to Syria. Fires for warmth can be a deadly hazard in those places. The students are now trying to raise $50,000 for that effort. Liu plans to turn the project into a nonprofit group and look for other refugees in need.

"At the end of the day, we didn't start this to make money. We didn't start this to get a ton of prestige," he said. "We just wanted to help people."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why was it important “not to assume what their needs were?"
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (36)
  • Aval-hyl
    11/01/2017 - 11:19 a.m.

    it is important to not assume their needs because you don't know what the refugees have they might have nothing, but if you say they have stuff they might think that were so lucky to have a lot of things.

  • Victorial-hyl
    11/01/2017 - 11:19 a.m.

    It's important "not to assume what their needs were" because the sleeping bags would not only help them live the snowstorm but, stay warm the entire time.

  • Sharmina-hyl
    11/01/2017 - 11:20 a.m.

    It was important “not to assume what their needs were?"because he could not just contact the people that are suffering and ask them what they need. So he decided instead of putting in needs for individuals, he could sum up the most important things that they would need.

  • Rileyl-hyl
    11/01/2017 - 11:23 a.m.

    It is important to"not to assume what their needs were".This might be because ,if you did you might of make, or do something that people or other living things already have and don't need. Like lets say you made blankets for people in the desert. they don't need that.

  • Angelinas-hyl
    11/01/2017 - 11:26 a.m.

    It was important not to assume what their needs were because the text said "I made it a point not to assume what their needs are, but to go out and find out." The text also said that he went to a Boston snowstorm to figure out what they need.

  • Norahh-hyl
    11/01/2017 - 11:26 a.m.

    It is important because what if you made this really cool feature but they didn't need it but they really need another feature. Like the sleeping bag has pockets on it but isn't warm. That takes away the whole point!

  • Wardad-hyl
    11/01/2017 - 11:30 a.m.

    It was important because it nice to help not guess like he reasch

  • Jamesconsidine-hyl
    11/01/2017 - 12:28 p.m.

    It was important “not to assume what their needs were"because if he did then he might not have helped the refugees as much as he wanted to with what he sent.

  • Victoriad-hyl
    11/01/2017 - 12:29 p.m.

    It was important "not to assume what their needs were", because then refugees got a surprise on something they needed. Instead of having the refugees expect for something they need. They can know with these sleeping bags that they will be warm this winter.

  • Viveks-hyl
    11/01/2017 - 12:34 p.m.

    it was because they were refugees and they got the homeland destroyed and they could use anything to help them live there life.refugees are dying and they need help so we need to do what we can to help.

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