Meet Deepak Ramola, the 24-year-old who wants to document life lessons of the Syrian refugees

Born and brought up in Dehradun, 24-year-old Deepak Ramola is a man of many talents.

He is a lyricist and has written songs for Bollywood films such as Wazir and Manjhi. He’s even acted in a few movies and a TV serial besides being a screenplay writer, script analyst and a spoken word poet.

But, the one role that is closest to his heart is that of a ‘Life Skill Educator.’

It all started falling in place in 2009 when Deepak was barely 17 years old. He founded Project FUEL, through which he began collecting life-lessons of various people and then presenting them in different interactive mediums for the world to see.

The lessons would also be converted into different activities and he would visit different institutions and conduct workshops. All of his workshops ended with collecting life-lessons from the attendees. At the moment, Deepak has not only conducted workshops all across India, but also in Nepal and Afghanistan.

Deepak strongly believes that the power of life-lessons transcends geographical boundaries and personal familiarities. “People who are miles away from each other and have never met, can relate with each other and help each other to move on in life, just through life lessons”, he adds.

He remembers receiving a life lesson from a Delhi woman who told him, “If your face can surprise you in the mirror every morning, you are still having a good life.” This very life-lesson travelled to Punjab helped a woman who had not smiled for years after being told she looked ugly while smiling- rediscover the beauty of the smile on her face while looking at it in a small piece of mirror during an activity that Deepak was conducting based on this very life lesson.

Having collected more than 50,000 life lessons and benefitting over 54,000 people of varying age groups and sections of the society, Deepak is attempting to do something even bigger this year.

As part of Project FUEL’s once a year exclusive program, ‘The Masterpiece Tour,’ he intends to collect life-lessons from people affected by the recent migration that was primarily driven by the conflict in Syria. He wishes to reach out to refugees as well as citizens of countries that have provided asylum to them, document learnings that have come from this experience and share them with the rest of the world.

Business Insider sat down with this incredible 24-year-old with a mission to learn more about him and the 2016 edition of his Masterpiece Tour.

1. How did the idea of collecting life-lessons from refugees come about?

In our long drawn endeavor of documenting and distributing life lessons through Project FUEL we note a distinct commonality- that most life lessons come out of hard knocks or experiences of adversity. In the process of helping people open up and reflect on testing times in their life, we have built and polished a beautiful approach- one that makes people feel safe and powerful when sharing and addressing their vulnerabilities

And, hence, from 2014, every year I decided on a place that can benefit most from our methodology. In the first year of the Masterpiece Tour we taught more than 3500 children in 6 different cities of Punjab. In 2015, we went to Nepal post the earthquake and served more than 800 Nepalese people. So, when time came to decide the location for the third edition of the tour, I decided to take life lessons from people affected by the recent migrant crisis- both refugees and citizens of countries that have provided asylum to them

Simply because, displacement is not just an outcome of a major circumstantial adversity in modern times; it is a human emotion today. Almost every person in today’s world has undergone the experience of leaving one’s home to adapt in an unknown setting, in some capacity or other.

The refugee situation in Syria forced nearly 4 million people to leave their homes and homeland, to find shelter in Europe is a magnified view of the homelessness we all fear. It’s an extreme scenario that highlights what human beings can go through due to multiple reasons and overcome it despite of having been challenged in every step of the way.

Ever since, I saw the body of a small boy washed up on the Turkish shore flashing in the media; I knew I had to make this tour happen. Otherwise, thousands of people will be gone too soon without having their experiences shared or lessons passed on for the world to acknowledge the legacy of their lives.

2. What do you intend to achieve from this tour?

These stories will increase relatability to the problems and put people at the heart of the event. Most importantly, it will facilitate the understanding of the conflict from a human point of view. While it's nearly impossible to relate to "four million refugees", it is possible to understand the life of one. Most importantly, I want to reach out and convey that we do care.

3. How long will the tour last?

In Masterpiece Tour 2016, we plan to visit Sweden, Netherlands, Germany, France and Hungary. We will be on the tour for 100 days, 20 days per country. Through an exchange of life lessons, we will not only document learnings that arise out of this conflict but to share it with the rest of the world in an un-biased, non-judgmental and creative way. All the refugee organizations in these countries we have spoken to believe that this project can help the refugees become part of the new societies, with dignity and respect.

4. Do you have a specific strategy in mind on how to interact with the refugees?

I have been prepping, specifically, for this tour for more than 6 months now and have a blueprint of what questions to ask and how to facilitate a space for an open conversation. We have some life skills activities planned based on life lessons that we will be overlaying with theirs. But they have been through such an emotional, mental, physical and psychological turmoil, I want to build a relationship, a connection to make them feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable. That is why the tour in each country is 20 days long so that we devote considerable amount of time to the work and not just fly through it.

5. What is the amount you’re looking to raise to make this tour a reality?

We require 30 lakhs to execute this tour successfully that includes stay, travel, visa, equipment cost, payouts, salaries of translators, research cost, everything for a four member team travelling for 100 days in five countries.

6. What happens incase you’re unable to raise the necessary funds?
We are currently crowdfunding to make this tour happen. If we don’t meet our goal of raising 30 lakhs in next 30 days we will not be able to execute the tour. We will not be able to reach out thousands of refugees and provide for them an opportunity to voice and share their learnings. We will not give up on trying to raise funds therefore we are also actively looking for individual, investors, charitable organizations to lend their support for this tour.

(As of the moment, Deepak has successfully managed to raise Rs 3, 44,403 from 53 backers. If you wish to contribute, click here.)

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