Guest post by Dalal Al-Waheidi, executive director of We Day Global. This is Dalal’s fourth post in a series about activism for canadianliving.com.
Photography: Getty ImagesIt was a profound and unexpected encounter that left me tingling with pride. I was standing inside the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough, Ont., a few weeks ago when two Syrian refugee families who had arrived in Canada just 20 days before showed up to meet me. They’d heard from the local New Canadians’ Centre that an Arabic-speaking woman from the Middle East would be talking about global citizenship. There we were, exchanging greetings in Arabic, in a place that celebrates our country’s history and the humble canoe. There isn’t a more powerful Canadian icon of connecting people from one place to another, of long journeys and working hard to reach a destination. I’m an immigrant, but in typical Canadian fashion, I spoke to them about the snow swirling about outside. It wasn’t a good day to come out, and certainly not the best time to land in Canada. “What do you mean?” replied one of the men, dumbfounded. “This is heaven.” My heart melted. The families were from Daraa, one of the most brutally besieged cities in Syria. The civil war in Syria is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time. Imagine putting your children in a death-trap boat because you know if you don’t get them over the ocean, the violence in your own country may kill them. A new report released last week by the Syrian Centre for Policy Research reveals almost half a million people have died since 2011. That’s the equivalent of 18 percent of the entire Canadian population – gone. These statistics are real people, and all of their lives have been cut short. Canada has committed to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of March. The government, of course, can’t do this on its own; nor should it. My personal experiences and work have shown me that any one of us can be a global citizen. All that’s required is a willingness to learn about world issues, and a desire to be part of the solution. A week after I met the Syrian refugees at the Canadian Canoe Museum, a friend in Toronto called to tell me the family of four she was sponsoring had arrived earlier than expected. I spent an hour on the phone with her and one of the new arrivals, the father, translating his questions from Arabic into English. I was really impressed by this man’s sense of gratitude and his desire to be independent. “Give me a few days,” he told me, “and I will be on my feet.” He wanted to help his family make it on their own. I have used a simple skill, language, to help ease a family’s first week into Canadian society. I want to do more. If you want to embrace your global citizenship, ask a refugee support group in your community what you can do to help. Perhaps you can take a refugee family to a local cultural festival, so they see Canadians celebrating multiculturalism, or show them around places like the library and community centre. If you do have the honour of meeting Syrian refugees, like I did, tell them "ahlan wa sahlan." It means "welcome" in Arabic.