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 at 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 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 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. He is 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 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.

To help, Liu and a team of five classmates recently raised $17,000. They will use this money to manufacture 250 bedrolls. They they will send them to resettlement areas in northwest Syria. They'll be distributed in December by Nu Day Syria. It is a nonprofit group. It is based in New Hampshire. It provides medical supplies and 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 who 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 that 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 stashed under his bed.

His final product is called the TravlerPack. It is a lightweight sleeping bag that's 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 experiences as an Eagle Scout backpacking in cold conditions. But other features were suggested by Syrian refugees Liu met through a friend. These features include 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. Fires for warmth can be a deadly hazard in these areas. 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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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why was it important “not to assume what their needs were?"
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COMMENTS (7)
  • Adamd-hyl
    11/01/2017 - 12:40 p.m.

    It was important '' not to assume what their needs were'' so Vick Liu knows what to bring to the refugees

  • NateJ-weh1
    11/02/2017 - 10:44 a.m.

    Vic Liu wanted to make warm sleeping bags for the refugees. He wanted to help the refugees stay warm in the 15 degree weather. It is good not to know what their needs were so then people could send them stuff for reinforcements. Vic Liu really helped the refugees.

  • calebr-orv
    11/02/2017 - 01:20 p.m.

    This is a good way to stop kids who can't even go outside, I would bring food for them and my church is next door bodies and we help them with food because they don't even have money to pay for there own food. So its awesome that we get the chance to do this.

  • ionicaj-cel
    11/08/2017 - 11:57 a.m.

    This is a very nice and selfless thing to do. Often times we take advantage of everything that we have and it's a shame. Nobody should get hypothermia or any other type of disease from harsh weather when there's more than enough supplies to go around.

  • TrennaB-buh
    11/08/2017 - 01:32 p.m.

    This story is about how a 19 year-old boy is making sleeping bag for refugees. He has made $17,00. 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 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. I would give this 5 out of 5 stars because he is doing an amazing thing for our community. I say this is for anyone. This inspiring me to do something good for our community. But I also think this is sad because all these people are being hurt. I hope this inspiring for you to do something good for your and our community. To read it go to tweens in the new. Hope you like reading it. Have fun helping the community.
    :)

  • 24tmcumm
    11/13/2017 - 10:58 a.m.

    i like his kinednes.
    bunch of people getting hypo thermia.
    each one cost $50.
    it was the traveler pack.
    they were trying to raise $50,000.

  • 24ajtrom
    11/13/2017 - 11:12 a.m.

    It's important to "not assume what their needs were" so Vick Liu could bring the refugees more than they actually needed. I felt that Vick is a good person, because he did NEED need to help the refugees, he CHOSE to help the refugees. I liked how Vick designed the sleeping bags. He made them comfortable and warm. He also put pockets for other items. That is how I feel about this article.

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