Content Warning: Mentions of Violence
It’s hard to imagine that cultural and physical genocide could be hidden in plain sight. However, for the Uyghur people, silenced oppression is a cruel reality.
The Uyghurs are one of 10 Muslim minority groups in China. They make up less than half of the population of Xinjiang (an occupied territory called East Turkistan before 1949), an autonomous region in northwestern China.
According to the United Nations, the Chinese government has detained up to 1.5 million Uyghurs in reeducation camps, throughout Xinjiang. During internment, detainees are forced to disavow Islam, learn Mandarin and abandon their language and customs. Former detainees have testified that systemic torture, persecution, forced labor, and even sterilization are a fixture of everyday life within these prison-like camps.
The founders of the Uyghur Foundation, who have chosen to remain anonymous, were called to action after witnessing the collective trauma firsthand. During a mundane visit to a family in Turkey, they discovered that the effects of internment had spread far beyond the cell walls.
During this short visit, they discovered that their once-thriving community had been ravaged by the government. College-educated Uyghurs were forced to work in the farmers market, selling cooking oil to make a living after fleeing China. Widows and orphans roamed the streets, separated from their families.
For the foundation’s president, one woman’s story was the breaking point that inspired him to create change.
“We met a woman who told us that her husband was doing business between Turkey and China. Recently, her husband went to China and never came back,” said the president. “It had been more than six months, and she hadn’t heard anything from her husband. She had a 6-month-old daughter and a 6-year-old daughter. We saw these beautiful girls that had no father. Then we decided, when we went back to the US, we needed to support her.”
After a year of waiting, the foundation gained 501(c)3 approval in May of 2019 and embarked on its mission to directly serve the Uyghur community.
So far, the Uyghur Foundation has supported over 300 orphans who have been affected by the Chinese government’s persecution. Additionally, they’ve begun sponsoring academically qualified Uyghur students throughout their first year in college.
Alongside humanitarian aid, the foundation also strives to save the cultural aspects of their identity.
“We’re not allowed to give our children Islamic names. We’re not allowed to speak our language. Women are forced to remove their scarves. Men cannot grow long beards. That’s our identity. Right now it’s endangered.”
Despite the potential setbacks of the pandemic, the Uyghur Foundation has continued to strive towards its goals. In fact, its president says they’re doing better than ever before.
“Our donations actually increased,” he said. “We couldn’t do a lot of the things we’ve planned but it opened a lot of new doors for us. I would say that we got a lot of support.
The foundation applies this same optimism towards their outlook on the future. Although their community is constantly endangered, the Uyghur Foundation’s staff has yet to lose hope in their people.
“The future is unknown,” said the foundation’s president. “But Uyghurs are very optimistic people. The region we’re from is tough, but to cope with that people have to be optimistic and life-loving people. We’re not going to give up. We believe the truth will come out one day.”
If you are interested in supporting the Uyghur Foundation, you can donate here. The Uyghur Foundation is also an official partner with Higher Rewards. Click here to learn more about our commitment to supporting organizations like them.