Syrian refugees in Calgary help Fort McMurray evacuees
Published Thursday, May 5, 2016 9:51PM EDT Last Updated Friday, May 6, 2016 2:26PM EDT
They’ve only been in Canada for a few months, and have little money or possessions, but a group of Syrian refugees in Calgary has launched a donation drive to help support displaced residents of Fort McMurray.
At least 30 Syrian families have donated $5 to $20 to the drive, which will help purchase toiletries, pillows and other household items for Fort McMurray residents devastated by the wildfire.
In one case, a five-year-old Syrian boy donated two of his toys and some storybooks to help those in need.
“They can completely relate -- this is what happened to them. They lost everything,” said Saima Jamal, co-founder of the Calgary-based Syrian Refugee Support Group.
“Of all the Canadians here now, these people are most attuned to what it means to lose all your stuff, your house, your memories, even your loved ones. They have lost their entire country.”
The idea came from Rita Khanchat, a Syrian refugee who arrived in Calgary with her husband and son last December. After hearing about the massive wildfire that has displaced nearly 90,000 Albertans, Khanchat wrote a message in Arabic on the private Facebook page for the Syrian Refugee Support Group.
“Canadians have provided us with everything and now we have a duty,” she wrote. “We must … help the people who lost their homes and everything in a fire (in) Oil City … Get ready, it's time to fulfill.”
The call to action quickly gained traction as Syrians across Calgary offered to help. A group of volunteers drove across the city to gather whatever spare money the Syrian families could offer.
Some refugees even offered extra couches and coffee tables they received after arriving in Canada, but volunteers advised that it was OK to keep their furniture.
In total, the drive is expected to bring in $500 to $1,000.
“I can’t stress to you how little these people have. They can barely speak any English. They’re still getting accustomed to their new surroundings,” Jamal said. “This, to them, is a lot.”
Using those donations, the group has purchased toiletries and everyday essentials, such as toothpaste, pillows and diapers. The items will be delivered to a group called 99 Hampers of Hope, which provided aid for the Syrian refugees when they first arrived in Canada.
For Jamal, seeing the Syrian community band together to help out their fellow Canadians has been inspirational.
“It made me so proud,” she said. “It made me feel like we accepted the right people into this country. We made true Canadians out of them. The feeling is … I’m so happy I can’t express it.”