Yakzan Shishakly, grandson of a former Syrian president, uses his unique perspective to assist refugees and fight terrorism in his home country.
The question isn’t whether he has ever felt unsafe. In fact, having once been kidnapped and, on multiple occasions, the target of assassination attempts, it’s quite the opposite. Yakzan Shishakly has experienced more danger in his life than most can imagine, but the Damascus-born philanthropist—who moved to Houston when he was 19—has found purpose in volunteering at the Turkey-Syria border. He relocated to that area at the end of 2011 to help firsthand, but he makes it back to Houston every year to visit his family. “I still feel I belong to Houston. At some point, I will move back here,” he says. “Emotionally, I cannot leave the [Syrian] people behind. Any person, when they start helping people and feel they can make a difference, will stay. That’s why I stayed.” His humanitarian efforts led to the establishment of the Maram Foundation for Relief and Development, a Houston-based nonprofit that provides relief to refugees and internally displaced persons in need. Since its inception, the organization has established temporary camps, psychosocial support and women empowerment centers, educational facilities and more. “Education is not always about the degree,” he says. “Education can be life skills. If we want to fight against terrorism, the best way is through education.”