Newton High Schooler Suraj Chaudhry Donates Winter Coats and Warm Words

Newton High Schooler Suraj Chaudhry Donates Winter Coats and Warm Words

2023-12-07T11:53:22-05:00November 29th, 2023|
Suraj stands in front of car with a trunk full of donated coats

Dear Ahmed, Zuhra, and Meetra,  
Welcome to Boston! My name is Suraj Chaudhry. I am a 16-year-old at Newton South High School about to start 11th grade…Let me tell you something about Boston. This is a very nice and friendly city. There are people from all over the world who come here and live here—they are very supportive and want to see others succeed and do well.  

– IINE volunteer Suraj Chaudhry in his letter to a newly arrived refugee family

The coats Suraj helped collect will be distributed to refugee and immigrant families in need this winter

When Suraj Chaudhry found out that at 16, he was too young for a summer internship at IINE, he was undeterred. He told IINE Volunteer Coordinator Kate Waidler that he wanted “to lend a helping hand in any way possible.”

Kate made two suggestions: he could write a letter to welcome a newly arriving refugee family or collect donations of household items they need. Suraj did both. His beautifully-written letter was delivered to a family from Afghanistan and his donation drive brought in about sixty coats to help newly arrived families stay warm during their first New England winter.  

“What impressed me about Suraj,” Kate recalls, “was his initiative and tenacity. I gave him a couple of ideas and he ran with them, involving his family, friends, and classmates. He followed up with me by phone and email to plan both for the letter and the coat drive and made arrangements to drop them off after his school day.”   

“I reached out to a few small schools and businesses and set up boxes to get coat donations with an IINE sign,” Suraj says. “People were very generous and donated many coats in good and even new condition. I hope the coats will help refugees over the winter season and I hope to do another one soon.” 

Kate was equally impressed by the letter he wrote. “His letter is warm and friendly,” she says. “I love how he invites the family to participate in what Boston has to offer and finds commonalities like sports and food. He tells them interesting things about himself and appears genuinely curious about the family and their transition to Boston. I would feel welcomed and supported by receiving such a letter and that is the desired outcome: to make refugee families feel like they are wanted in our city and invited to participate in the city’s offerings.”

“I just thought of what I would want to know if I ever were to leave Boston,” says Suraj, “like the best way to get around, what type of city it was, and whether the people were friendly. I just hosted an Argentinian exchange student earlier this year at my house, and one of the things I did with him was go to see a Celtics game at TD Garden. He was so happy and grateful, so I included that in my letter. I also thought to personalize it with pictures so the family can put a face to the letter. I hope the Afghan family found some comfort in my letter.” 

Suraj's hand-written letter was delivered to a newly arrived Afghan family

Suraj’s hand-written letter was delivered to a newly arrived Afghan family

It was completing an Argentinian student exchange program that led Suraj to search for internships involving immigrants. When his search led him to the International Institute of New England, he was moved by the mission.  

“The work that IINE is doing is making a difference in the lives of refugees and giving them a chance at everyday life. Since it is their first step before refugees enter their new home and community, it’s important that they feel welcome. As a member of an Indian Immigrant family, I know firsthand the struggles my parents faced, and I would like to help other families, and raise awareness about the challenges refugees face when they first arrive, and ways we can support them.” 

What will we see next from Suraj?

“Honestly, he says “I am just getting started and it makes me feel like I am making a difference. So hopefully, I can continue to keep it up!” 

Interested in IINE’s volunteer opportunities? Click to find a list of ways you can get involved.

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