Deedban 6th issue
Tears of Compassion
Kazmi Gul e Rukh
Al Fao, is a community known for its beauty, serenity and goodness of its simple folk, until the Iran Iraq war broke out in 1980, which continued for 8 years, destroying the city, its way of life and devastating dreams and aspirations. Nevertheless, and despite the war and the difficult living conditions, the next war was with coalition forces against Kuwait invasion which took place in 1990. The resulting sanctions imposed by the UN, which lasted 12 years created a very dramatic decline in human welfare. Many families experienced hunger and lack of basic needs. People had to work several jobs to provide food for the families, to overcome depression and feeling of hopelessness to be able to pursue. When I came to Canada and started volunteer work with different organizations, I met with miseries of life, after hearing the facts with heavy heart and teary eyes, my thoughts were directed to my goal, to be a social worker and help those who need us the most. Life’s hardships instilled something in me, perhaps making me a little different from others, and that is empathy, the ability to feel the suffering of others and the responsibility towards the community I live in. Which brings me to talk about my story, specifically about my volunteer work with Syrians. Religious conflict which broke out in Iraq, Syria forced people to flee to Canada as refugees. A crisis which kept getting worse and worse, with no relief in sight. This is the point when I decided to volunteer and get involved in helping others. I started by initially checking on my neighbours' wellbeing. Nonetheless, I proceeded in my endeavour, strengthened with the following principle: don't feed me a fish, instead teach me how to fish. In other words, I tried helping people to find work rather than living off charity.
Every month I went around the neighbourhood collecting money to help a widower to pay the rent. She was in her fifties with a failing health and a large family. She used to be a cook but has been without work for a while because the restaurant, she worked was closed. I found her to be gentle. On a side note, many don't fully appreciate the magnitude of their skills, aptitudes and abilities until they are stimulated to use them (research on motivation and drive is new and very important; many seminars have proven its benefits.
Meeting with her, the above-mentioned lady, inspired me to try this approach. When she apprised me of her former projects and work accomplishments in the Gulf countries, I tried to help her to overcome her depression and motivate her to help others, also in dire need, struggling with the same difficult circumstances in which we found ourselves. Thus, we established that one of her objectives and aspirations is to use her work experience and skills as cook to start catering at home.
This is how we finally came up with the notion that she would sell fresh food (cleaned and packed lunch boxes). So, we started renovating, buying the necessary equipment to start work, and writing advertisement on mall bulletin boards. The project was built on a sound idea since feedback was very positive. On opening day, a pleasant surprise awaited us. Clients were so numerous including large number of students that we sold out of everything which encouraged us to stock double the quantity the next day of fresh homemade food. What astonished me she was enthusiastic and motivated: she changed from a chair ridden desperate woman to an energetic, productive worker. It only took a few months for home business to boom. With some motivation this woman evolved from a needy individual to a productive member of society. Projects which rely on self help and inner motivation have far reaching strategic results. Conversely, programs where handouts are regularly distributed to the unemployed may impact negatively on the receiver's psyche, such as feeling useless.
Fortified with this principle, I initiated several similar projects such as looking after widows and orphans both financially and non- financially. By the latter, I mean that when I had no money to donate, I did not feel absolved from aiding others in community. I helped in other ways such as checking on orphans' school work, spending time with them or buying little ornaments so my children can in turn gift them to these orphans. I also invited them home to dinner so they can play with my children. Such moments were beautiful bringing us a feeling of happiness and strength, making us feel at peace with the world and with ourselves. I can tell you about a case reported to me by a friend concerning three orphaned girls living with their grandmother. Their father had died in the war and their mother had left them to remarry. When I heard it, I took my kids to the market and let them pick out little gifts themselves to teach them very early on the benefits of giving and sharing. At home they wrapped them nicely before we left to visit the three orphans. When we entered their house, I was taken aback by the large number of people there and when I inquired, it was explained to me that in that same house also lived two sickly uncles battling mental issues along with their families. Regardless, the grandma welcomed us gracefully. It was in winter and the house was very cold with everyone huddled around the single heating stove. The rooms had no doors; bed covers secured with nails hung on the door sills to create some privacy. I was embarrassed when I realized there were other kids in the household watching the orphaned girls thouraya, Uswa and Zainab pleasure and happiness with their little gifts. My surprise was great when, as I held little Thouraya on my lap, she hugged her little doll and said to me that she will show it to her dad when he returns home! When the grandma explained to me that the girls don't know about their father's death, I tried to hide my tears from kids, left with heavy heart thinking about these three young girls whose future and dreams have been utterly silent by a war which has absolutely nothing to do with them, a war which neither side could ever hope to win, a war which produces orphans eaten by despair and misery, a war in which fathers end up buried beneath the earth, a war which exacerbates the filthy and deserted living . In fact, I did not find great numbers of destitute people here but rather found a country which gives generously and justly to its people. I also did not find orphans in the streets for this is a country of peace. Hence, my volunteer work must adapt to these new realities. I wanted to volunteer in Canada, the country which welcomed me and my family with the feeling of gratitude which filled my heart, I felt indebted to the country which provided me with a new home and assured me and my children a better future. How better to repay that debt than to overcome difficulties I am facing? Of course, the challenges of working in the volunteer sector are greater in our country of origin as your actions could be interpreted as political and you could be jailed. Many have suffered persecution because of their humanitarian work. On the other hand, here in Canada we enjoy the freedom of working in whatever field without being hindered or viewed with suspicion, if you do not bother others around you. Many Syrian families were arriving in great numbers to Edmonton which lead to delays in providing some necessities and government allocations. So, my children and I organised food, blankets and clothes and then we visited the families in their temporary hotels or in their houses to distribute our donations. We assisted total of 9 families with whom we are still in touch and continue to check on their wellbeing. We took the initiative to sit with the teens of these families to discuss their aspirations and what they would like to achieve here in Canada. I invited my children to take part in these discussions, to demonstrate the rewards of giving of one's time. I wish, there was a program sponsored by organisations working with newcomers, in which educational lectures are offered to newcomers of all ages with emphasis on the youth, to alleviate their confusion, to redress some behaviour and prioritise goals and objectives. It would be beneficial to identify the ones who show initiative, creativity and promise and help them become role models to others.
Some might wonder about the source of my financial means to provide such donations to refugees. How did I obtain these resources? The answer is when you deeply believe in what you are doing, you will obtain results, therefore believing is essential. One of the challenges was distributing all these donations because I barely knew how to navigate the streets and addresses. Furthermore, my lack of experience with winter driving, the cold, the snow storms was such that I sometime circled around an address without knowing how to get to a specific house.
Elsewhere in the city, some members of the Lebanese community opened a relief centre for Syrian families. Through social media groups, I facilitated the connection between the centre and the newcomers by driving the families to the centre to obtain donated items and then returned them to their hotel. The centre did a wonderful job of alleviating the suffering of many families. If I may
digress for a moment: I believe that if your actions are principled and your intent is ethical, you will find a helping hand extended to you. Happiness is feeling of grateful and it arises when you shed a tear of compassion besides the crying destitute and weeping orphan, when you count your blessings after witnessing what the poor eat, when you sit with the terminally ill to listen to their woes and try to strengthen them with a shine of hope, when you kindly pat an orphan's head, when you share your meals on a regular basis with a family living on crumbs, you live in peace. Some people, when difficult circumstances come, they get down, lose their will power and decisiveness, may become lethargic, depressed, dependent on others, unable to create and be productive. I believe that consolidating efforts and self-motivation are the best ways that I have tried many times.
I am still doing job as a social worker with a center, journey till here was not easy but I did not let go the rays of hope, thanks to Sabeen Ali who pushed me to put forward some of my hidden side. My message to the people is,’you do not need money to help others, sometimes sitting near a fellow can change direction and bring smile.