Boulder Man Matches Syrian Refugees With Western Sponsors

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<p>Khaled Al Mobarak&#039;s family fled Syria four years ago, about a year into a bloody civil war that has caused nine million Syrians to leave their homes.</p>
Photo: Khaled Al Mobarak Syrian refugee
Khaled Al Mobarak's family fled Syria four years ago, about a year into a bloody civil war that has caused nine million Syrians to leave their homes. Khaled now lives in Lebanon.

Updated Dec.4, 2017: This story was originally published in July 2016. Since then, Humanwire's founder has been charged with theft and charitable fraud, and accused by donors and former staff of not delivering aid to refugees as promised. Find an update to this story here.

Original story continues below.

Over Skype last Friday, families connected across the world. In a suburb of Baltimore, Kim Tyssowski and Steve Phillips peered into their computer's camera. They both wore eyeglasses; a framed piece of art hung on the wall behind them. In Lebanon, Fardour Al Jassem and her teenage niece Ikhlas peered back. They sat in chairs against a blank wall. All four smiled, and started chatting through an interpreter about the weather and whereabouts of Ikhlas' brother Khaled.

About four months ago, Tyssowski saw Khaled's face on a website called Humanwire. Founded by Boulder's Andrew Baron, Humanwire matches Syrian refugees with families in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom who can help them. They often offer their own money, tap friends and family to raise more funds, and Baron hopes they will also provide connections. "For example what if one of these kids becomes an artist and the host knows a curator in Paris who can connect them?" Baron says.

Photo: Syrian refugee Skype call
From Lebanon, Fardour and Ikhlas, left, chatted with Kim and Steve in Maryland, right.

Khaled and Ikhlas are two of the more than 9 million Syrians who have fled their homes during the civil war that started five years ago. They live with three aunts and their grandmother in a tent in Lebanon. Aunt Fardour Al Jassem says the family wants to stay in Lebanon, where they speak the language, and move into a house. Baron says Humanwire has helped more than 1,000 refugees since it launched in November, mostly living in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Malaysia.

Baron spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner about the inspiration for Humanwire, and the challenges of running a startup nonprofit half a world away.