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Syria Awareness Week Credit: Yolanda Chen , Yolanda Chen

Amid U.S. strikes in Syria targeted against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a recent student initiative is bringing the human side of the Syrian people’s story to Penn’s campus.

Throughout the week, Penn for Syrian Refugees, Penn Arab Student Society and Al Bustan Seeds of Culture are hosting Syria Awareness Week. On Tuesday, they hosted a Skype conversation with a Syrian doctor helping refugees, and on Wednesday they set up a memorial for Syrian refugees on College Green.

“Ultimately the goal is to raise money for the people who are suffering in Syria right now,” said College and Wharton sophomore Cora Neumann, who is the director of publicity for Penn for Syrian Refugees. “We want to increase the scope and potentially the size of the club, and just get more people at Penn aware.”

While recent focus on Syria has centered on U.S.-led air strikes against ISIS — the most recent strikes occurred on Wednesday, according to news reports — the groups hosting Syria Awareness Week want to increase dialogue about the struggles of the Syrian people. The week is not being hosted directly in response to the most recent U.S. strikes.

“One of the things we decided from the beginning is that we wanted this to be Penn for Syrian Refugees, and not just Penn for Syria,” said College and Wharton sophomore Aimee Knaus, who is the director of business development for Penn for Syrian Refugees. “We didn’t want to focus more on the political aspect, but more on the human rights and the suffering of the people.”

Conflict and war in the region has produced skyrocketing numbers of refugees in recent years. According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are currently over 3 million registered Syrian refugees as of Sept. 24. Two years ago, in September 2012, there were 250,000 registered Syrian refugees, less than 10 percent of the number today.

“Even though politically things have changed a lot, the people still suffer and that’s our main issue,” Knaus added.

On Thursday, the groups will host a Syrian refugee in Annenberg Hall at 6 p.m. The refugee will talk about his experience in the country and the atrocities he saw committed, according to the event’s description . On Saturday, the sponsors of Syria Awareness Week will hold an event in Claudia Cohen Hall at 3 p.m. centered on educating Penn’s campus about Syrian culture.

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