Episode 11: Syria Calling

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn
— Benjamin Franklin

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What a day. Sunday January 17, 2016. There are few days that one remembers, and today was one of them. Some background: On Friday, my friend, Zakir Faizal, messaged me on Facebook saying his family wanted to meet Syrian refugees today and was wondering if I wanted to serve as an interpreter for his family as as they didn't know Arabic. I accepted and invited my friend Mark, to come along with me, as he also was interested in the refugee crisis.

The Toronto Plaza Hotel, which is off near the 400 and 401, is where the Syrians currently reside. This is the home of more than 500 people who are victims of war. War is often capricious and brutal on civilians, but there was no indignation here, only relief that they had found a place where they can call home. However, they miss Syria, as a child would miss their mother had she passed away. Most do not know English, but have made this arduous journey for a brighter future.

I expected us to spend the day interacting with the families at the Hotel; little did I know that Zakir’s family wanted to bring a family to Markham to provide them with lunch. No matter how large a barrier is, the will to do good crushes that. Zakir’s family have never met these people before, didn't speak their language, yet, were determined to help out . They wanted to get the refugees out of the hotel to change the scenery. It’s amazing how quickly a bond was formed between us and the Syrians. Love has many forms of manifesting, and first-glance contact is one of those forms.

We took 2 families with us to Zakir’s home: 1 family, which consisted of a mom and her 4 kids had their home turned to rubble, their father a casualty. The mom, fearing for herself and kids, walked, barefooted to Jordan, to seek haven from the war. Without warning, the kids went from schools to slums. The other family, a wife, her husband, and 5 kids also suffered the plight albeit they ended up in Lebanon. Lebanon? Jordan? What difference does it make, they were treated as “economy class” citizens. True they had a roof over their heads, but a blanket of warmth was missing. This is what makes as unique as Canadians: Our country is like a salad, different people from different backgrounds, with each person bringing a different taste to make a delicious bowl.

Thumbs up to Mark and Zakir!

Thumbs up to Mark and Zakir!

All the people I saw today have been through a lot, they face a different challenge now. Finding a home, a job, learning a new language, meeting new people, getting kids enrolled in school...that’s hard to do. It made me think of how small my problems are compared to these people. I encourage you, the listener, or the reader, to take time out to go to the Toronto Plaza Hotel to interact with the refugees. I knew about their situation by reading the news, but it’s totally different when you actually go and explore. You only need to go through the Hotel’s entrance to see what they are going through.

One highlight today was when we took pictures together at the end, and exchanged contact info. Here we were, Arabs, Caucasian, and Sri Lankans smiling at a camera. These people have seen death, suffered, and have in front of them an enormous challenge, yet, for the couple of hours we met, it was all smiles. As one of them put it, the past is past, we only have the future to change. I wish these people all the best. These people I speak of are no longer refugees, but they are new Canadians. So welcome all to Canada!