‘We understand what they’re feeling’: Syrian refugees in Calgary step up to help Fort McMurray fire evacuees
May 5, 2016
Calgary Herald | When Rita Khanchet saw images of a vicious wildfire destroying homes and uprooting tens of thousands of people in Fort McMurray, she immediately thought of Syria, the homeland she fled just five months ago with her husband and young son.
Khanchet and her family know first-hand how scary it is to leave a community, home and possessions behind, and she was determined to help the people of Fort McMurray.
“It’s not easy to lose everything. We can understand them more than anyone in Canada. We were in the same situation,” said Khanchet, who lives in Calgary.
“Me and my family wanted to do something for these people. Canadian society helped us when we came to Canada.”
Syrian refugees across Calgary are now giving what little they have to northern Albertans, after Khanchet posted an appeal in Arabic on a private Facebook group the newcomers created and frequent.
“(Canadians) gave us everything. And now it’s time to return the favour,” she wrote.
A fellow Syrian refugee translated and shared Khanchet’s post with a wider community on the Syrian Refugee Support Group page, and within hours offers of help came in from new Canadians determined to give back to their new home.
“All the Syrians are saying, ‘I’m ready to give, I’m ready to give,’ ” said Saima Jamal, a co-founder of the Syrian Refugee Support Group.
“It’s amazing. You have to understand how little these guys have . . . But they understand the idea of an entire city losing their home. That’s something they can easily relate to. They went through that.”
While some newcomers offered to donate their furniture or clothes (which were donated to them by generous Canadians just months ago), the group settled on collecting $5 from any Syrian who has it.
The funds are going toward purchasing hygiene items for evacuees from Fort McMurray, items the Syrian refugees received when they arrived in Canada just months ago through a group called 99 Hampers of Hope.
Khanchet said refugees of all ages who’ve settled in Calgary want to help the people of Fort McMurray.
When she told her five-year-old son, Elie, about what was happening in northern Alberta, he collected his toys and said he wanted to give them to other children who didn’t have toys.
“We understand what they’re feeling. When you lose everything, you have to start from zero. You lose your memories, your items. It’s not easy. It’s something very sad. We can totally understand their feeling,” Khanchet said.
“We are very thankful to the Canadian people and we want to be a part of this society. We will do our best to be a good part of this society. By doing that, maybe we can return a little bit of the great job that Canadian people did for us.”Back