Student makes sleeping bags for refugees in Middle East
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.

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

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

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

To help, Liu and a team of five classmates recently raised $17,000 to manufacture 250 bedrolls and send them to resettlement areas in northwest Syria. They'll be distributed in December by Nu Day Syria, a nonprofit group based in New Hampshire that provides medical supplies and everyday items to refugees in Syria.

The group partnered with Liu after hearing from families who feared a repeat of last year's winter, one of the worst in recent history. Workers say even a sleeping bag can make a major difference for refugees who had to flee home without warm clothing and who 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, grants and logistics coordinator for the group. "It's a very tangible fear because it's something they've seen happen already."

The project joins other efforts to help refugees through the winter, including programs by the U.N. and other nonprofits that distribute blankets and warm clothing.

Liu's work began last year in his dorm room, where the Los Angeles native crafted a prototype using a sewing machine and materials stashed under his bed.

His final product is called the TravlerPack, a lightweight sleeping bag that's filled with duck down insulation and 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 experiences as an Eagle Scout backpacking in cold conditions, but other features were suggested by Syrian refugees Liu met through a friend, including a waterproof pocket for travel documents and 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, who tested one of his early models by zipping into it overnight during a Boston snowstorm.

After the first sleeping bags are delivered to Syria, Liu's team aims to send another 1,000 to refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, where fires for warmth can be a deadly hazard. The students are now trying to raise $50,000 for that effort. Once that's finished, 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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Why was it important “not to assume what their needs were?"
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • kiannar-cel
    11/01/2017 - 01:20 p.m.

    I think that Vick Liu is doing a good thing because he is donating his time to people who need things the most. It's important to not assume because assuming what people need can be very offensive. Simply finding out what they need makes them feel included in the project and it helps the questionnaire to understand them. That's why it is important to not assume what people need.

  • JamesDeGiacomo-ban
    11/06/2017 - 07:31 a.m.

    I think it's really cool that someone is this caring about others.

  • ShaneMolander-ban
    11/06/2017 - 07:32 a.m.

    I think it is good for people getting involved in all of the refugee related conflicts going on in the world.

  • JulieAlcaro-ban
    11/06/2017 - 07:32 a.m.

    Its important not to assume what their needs were because you could be completely wrong. You should go and find out what their needs were

  • StellaSchofield-ban
    11/06/2017 - 07:32 a.m.

    I think that it is really nice and cool that students are taking the time to do this and are passionate about it.

  • SamMcGregor-ban
    11/06/2017 - 07:33 a.m.

    I like how Liu is trying to make a difference and is thinking about children and people less fortunate than him.

  • PaigeHolloway-ban
    11/06/2017 - 07:34 a.m.

    It was important to "not assume what their needs were" because if they assume what their needs were they could be incorrect and spend money on things that they do not need.

  • GracePfaff-ban
    11/06/2017 - 07:34 a.m.

    It is important "not to assume what their needs were" because their assumptions could be wrong and they would spend money on unnecessary things.

  • SerenaFerris-ban
    11/06/2017 - 07:41 a.m.

    This is important because without asking what they need how would you know what the refugees want.

  • MichaelaO'Leary-ban
    11/06/2017 - 07:43 a.m.

    It was important not to assume what their needs were because no one really knows what their needs are except for them. They are all going through different things so we can't assume what they are going through.

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