Syrian ‘Big Brother’ finalist Kaysar Dadour becomes unlikely hero in Brazil

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Aleppo-born Kaysar Dadour sought refuge in Brazil in June 2014. (Supplied)
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The city of Belo Horizonte was hosting its first Festival of Syrian and Lebanese Food and Culture and the Brazilians were embracing it wholeheartedly. (Supplied)
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The city of Belo Horizonte was hosting its first Festival of Syrian and Lebanese Food and Culture and the Brazilians were embracing it wholeheartedly. (Supplied)
Updated 26 April 2018
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Syrian ‘Big Brother’ finalist Kaysar Dadour becomes unlikely hero in Brazil

  • Aleppo-born Kaysar Dadour sought refuge in Brazil in June 2014
  • In early April, he became the first foreigner to reach the final of the country’s hit reality TV show “Big Brother Brasil”

BELO HORIZONTE: On an otherwise quiet Saturday morning in April, a shaded street in southeastern Brazil hummed to the sound of Middle Eastern music. The city of Belo Horizonte was hosting its first Festival of Syrian and Lebanese Food and Culture and the Brazilians were embracing it wholeheartedly — much like they have embraced a 28 year-old Syrian refugee for the past three months.

Aleppo-born Kaysar Dadour sought refuge in Brazil in June 2014. In early April, he became the first foreigner to reach the final of the country’s hit reality TV show “Big Brother Brasil.” He eventually finished in second place, racked up more than 2.5 million followers on Instagram, and walked away with US$44,000. He said he plans to use the prize money to extract his parents from the ongoing war in his native country.

A loud, smiley extrovert who changed his hairstyle on a near-weekly basis and charmed viewers with his occasional mispronunciation of Portuguese words, Kaysar worked as a waiter before entering the Big Brother house. He was accused of being disingenuous by some of the other 19 housemates, who insisted nobody could be so happy and energetic all of the time — especially someone who claimed he had lost a girlfriend and an uncle to war and was forced to sleep on the streets in Ukraine after fleeing Aleppo in 2011.

Yet to those fans enjoying shwarmaskibe and esfihas at the food festival, Kaysar proved a positive force, providing a different perspective of a situation they knew only from watching and reading the news.

“I voted for him to win,” said Brigitte Bacha, a dance instructor wearing a white t-shirt with “Peace in Syria” emblazoned across the front. “It is so important that he was on the show, because he showed the reality of the situation there. It was obvious he has a good character. He works hard and has integrated himself into our country. He showed that refugees are just like you and me, but they find themselves in a bad place just now.”

Lili Resende, a Brazilian attending with a Romanian friend, said she had not watched much of the show, but had been supporting Kaysar so that he could afford to save his family from war. “The perception of refugees here is already very good, but I was supporting him and wanting him to win because he and his family have suffered a lot,” said Resende, who shares an apartment building with various Syrians and helps them sell native food products at the local market. 

Brazil has long welcomed refugees from the Middle East. An influx of Lebanese in the late 19th Century resulted in Brazil being home to more Lebanese than any country outside Lebanon. More than 3,000 Syrians have reportedly arrived in recent years. Organizers of Saturday’s festival said they had expected around 3,000 visitors throughout the day, but the final headcount came in at 7,040. Entry was free, but each guest had to donate one kilogram of non-perishable food to a local charity. 

“Arab families gather together to eat, so we thought why not bring together the Brazilian people to eat Arab food together,” said the Consul of Syria for Minas Gerais state, Emir Cadar. As the smell of koftas and shish barak wafted through the air, flyers for Arabic lessons were distributed, vendors sold handmade chessboards, dresses and shisha pipes, and belly dancers swayed and jolted to live Middle Eastern music. 

“We dream of an end to war,” said Cadar — a statement in contrast to the official line that his government broadcast earlier in the day in which it was claimed “the Syrian people are happy” and that the country “is a victim of lies and fake news.”


Gigi Hadid visits Rohingya refugee camps

Updated 18 August 2018
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Gigi Hadid visits Rohingya refugee camps

  • American-Palestinian supermodel Gigi Hadid is visiting Bangladesh to meet Rohingya Muslim refugees
  • Hadid visited the Jamtoli Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar on Friday

JEDDAH: American-Palestinian supermodel Gigi Hadid is visiting Bangladesh to meet Rohingya Muslim refugees. The 23-year-old model is documenting her work with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Bangladesh on social media.
Hadid visited the Jamtoli Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar on Friday, where she met with Rohingya refugee children.
“En route to the Jamtoli Refugee Camp, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh,” she wrote on Instagram. “As well as providing for the Rohingya refugees, UNICEF supports the host communities in need, including an estimated 28,000 people given access to better sanitation and safe water through the WASH Program, and 53,000 locals have been supported in educational activities.”
She shared several images of children at the camp, detailing the conditions they live in and UNICEF’s work in the area. “Across all the camps, 1.3 million people currently require humanitarian assistance; more than half of them are children,” Hadid wrote.
Hadid visited a “women/girl-friendly” zone, where they get a basic education and learn skills such as sewing. “We spoke about their personal stories and hardships, what they enjoy and benefit from currently in the refugee camps, what they still need, and what they hope for their futures. Their strength, bravery and desire to learn and better their lives and the lives of their children is inspiring and encourages us @unicefusa to continue to find new ways to support these amazing human beings during this crisis,” she wrote.
The cause of the refugees is one that is close to Hadid’s heart. Her father, Mohamed Hadid, came to the United States as a refugee before he became a billionaire real estate developer. In January, Hadid and her younger sister, Bella, protested US President Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting some Muslim-majority countries.
On Saturday, Hadid visited UNICEF’s child-friendly space in Camp 9 of the Kutupalong Balukhali Refugee Camp. The purpose of the camp, Hadid said, is to “let kids be kids.”
“As well as psychosocial work to help them get through trauma through activities like art, they also can play sports, learn music, and learn to read and draw (some for the first time in their lives). Separate from educational spaces, the importance of these spaces is huge due to the fact that refugee children can spend a majority of the day working, usually collecting firewood from miles away so their families can cook, taking care of siblings, helping around the house etc., and here they can just focus on having fun,” she wrote.
The model also visited the UNICEF Learning Center in the Shamlapur Refugee Camp in Cox’s Bazar.