BYU honors student starts Ezidi refugee relief fund

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Jake Brewer, BYU Honors student, co-founder of the Ezidi Relief Fund. (Provided by Jake Brewer)
Jake Brewer (right) is a BYU Honors student and co-founder of the Ezidi Relief Fund. (Jake Brewer)

Jake Brewer has learned many lessons during his time at BYU, but the biggest is “nothing is impossible.”

Brewer is a 24-year-old double major in Arabic and computer science, a father of two and the co-founder of the Ezidi Relief Fund.

“You need to have some sort of unstoppability in you,” Brewer said about his endeavors. “There is no problem that is too big that you should just ignore.”

His journey with the Ezidi Relief Fund began in 2013 when he wanted to help Lucy Usoyan, his wife’s close friend. Usoyan is an Ezidi woman who fled from Armenia, her home country, to find refuge in the United States. She ended up finding a home here in Utah. 

Usoyan spoke to Brewer and his wife, Galena Chenina, about ISIS terrorist attacks on the Ezidi people living on Mount Sinjar in Syria. Ezidis are originally from the Middle East but live all around the world. Brewer said people use “Ezidi” as a term to describe their race, religion and/or nationality. He said Ezidism is an old religion that is often persecuted, which causes many Ezidi people to flee from their homelands.

Brewer immediately began trying to come up with ideas to help Usoyan, who had relatives affected by the terrorist attacks on Mount Sinjar at the time. Eventually the group developed the Ezidi Relief Fund, a nonprofit organization. The fund is aimed at providing supplies and rescuing the Ezidi people stuck on Mount Sinjar.

The process proved difficult for the group. Brewer called senators and other political leaders to ask for help but didn’t get the help he wanted.

“The response that we got from most people was that, ‘This is a worldwide issue and there is nothing that you, as students, can do,'” Brewer said.

Responses like these were discouraging, but Brewer remained motivated to help. Their campaign eventually hit a turning point when Usoyan was unofficially given five minutes to speak during The New Kurdish Reality in the Middle East: Perils, Prospects and Possibilities conference in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 26, 2014. The speech was Usoyan’s first speech and she asked Brewer to write it.

“In five minutes, we were able to bring the entire audience to tears,” Usoyan said.

The relief fund began to gain traction from that point on. Journalists, donors and government officials donated funds to the cause. The organization formed a partnership with the Kurdish National political party and secured a donation from the Israeli government.

The Ezidi Relief Fund’s main goal is to help Ezidis affected by the massacres on Mount Sinjar. The organization has recently implemented a program where donors can sponsor an Ezidi child.

“You contribute the amount of money that you would to raise the child and it goes directly to the upbringing, education, food, clothing and activities of the one specific child in Syria,” Brewer said.

Lucy, Ezidi from Armenia, presenting a speech on behalf of the Ezidi Relief Fund. (Provided by Jake Brewer)
Lucy Usoyan, an Ezidi woman from Armenia, presents a speech on behalf of the Ezidi Relief Fund at the National Press Club on Sept. 26, 2014. (Provided by Jake Brewer)

Brewer explained how he and Chenina watched a Mormon Message from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland that helped them to keep going when they were starting their nonprofit. In the Mormon Message, Elder Holland describes a scenario of when him and his young family had car trouble. The message is one of endurance during a trial. Eventually, Brewer and Chenina were able to continue on with support from each other, friends and family.

“He is definitely a go-getter,” said BYU Arabic professor Kirk Belnap, a mentor to Brewer. “He does a great job of getting out and including everyone.”

Usoyan said she trusts Brewer with any sort of project and explained he is a rare and amazing type of person.

“He encouraged me and always has been my encouragement,” Usoyan said.

It has been a busy three years for the Brewer family. They continue to work hard with the Ezidi Relief Fund and also with school at BYU. Brewer and Chenina looked back on their experiences and said they know now the importance of never giving up and believing that people can make a difference.

“There (have) been lots of prayers, lots of tears, lots of hopes, lots of blessings,” Chenina said.

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