Pinar Karaca-Mandic '98 Helps Syrian Refugees in Her Native Turkey

Pinar Karaca-Mandic '98

Twin Cities Pioneer Press: St. Paul woman helping Syrian refugees in her native Turkey

Like the rest of the world, Pinar Karaca-Mandic '98 saw the photo of a refugee boy who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea when his family attempted to reach Greece in a small boat.

For the St. Paul woman, the image was personal. The boy's small body had washed up on the same beach at Bodrum, Turkey, where Karaca-Mandic vacationed as a child. She brings her own three children to the resort town during visits home.

"We go there pretty much every time we're in Turkey," she said. "It affected me and my husband very much."

Karaca-Mandic has watched the Syrian refugee crisis unfold in Europe. But unlike most observers, she was in a unique position to help. She grew up in Ankara, Turkey, and over the last few months, through a network of childhood friends and other Turkish-Americans, she has been able to identify and raise money for several grass-roots projects to help Syrian children, including printing children's books in Arabic.

"I speak the language. I know the culture pretty well and have relatives and friends who can guide me," said Karaca-Mandic, an associate professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota, where she researches health care economics. "When you see you can do something, you just cannot, well, not do it."

On a visit to see family in Turkey in July, Karaca-Mandic noticed Syrians sleeping in parks.

When she stopped her car in traffic, children speaking Arabic ran up to the window to peddle packets of tissues, flowers and water bottles.

"Everybody talks about this in Turkey," she said of the swelling refugee numbers. "Everybody sees it."

Then in September, the photo of the drowned Syrian boy went viral and people flooded social media sites, wondering how they could help. Karaca-Mandic contacted a small humanitarian organization called Bridge to Turkiye Fund based in North Carolina that was started by Turkish-Americans in 2003 to provide scholarships and educational support for poor children in Turkey. She suggested that it also help Syrian refugees.

"I thought they'd get back to me to say they would start a campaign and then I'd donate money to them," said Karaca-Mandic. Instead, the all-volunteer group told her -- great idea, why don't you help us start something?

Read the full article at the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.

Karaca-Mandic graduated with honors from the College with a B.A. in economics and mathematics and was awarded the Adams Prize in Economics. She received her Ph.D. in economics from the University of California-Berkeley in 2004. She is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, Division of Health Policy and Management, and is a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Health Economics and Healthcare programs.