‘I am begging people to care’: Calgary Syrian refugee organizes aid for earthquake survivors


Five thousand people are now reported to have been killed in the two earthquakes that devastated parts of southern Turkey and northern Syria earlier this month, but the destruction in Syria has made a desperate situation even worse for millions of people who have survived the country’s civil war. Now, a Calgary woman is taking action to help those in her homeland — a place to which it’s been challenging to deliver aid.Aya Mhana moved to Calgary as a refugee from Syria seven years ago — her parents and sister still live there, along with friends who are struggling to survive in the earthquake-devastated area.“Sometimes I couldn’t manage to hear all the stories because I’ve been having nightmares. I cannot express my feelings because I was in shock, so imagine how those people there are feeling,” Mhana said. Story continues below advertisement “I felt helpless because of the circumstance my people are going through. It’s a disaster on top of a disaster.”Mhana took her feelings of despair and turned to her music — she’ll be performing songs she wrote about the heartbreak in Syria at fundraiser in Calgary called Rise from the Rubble.Raghda Azzam, who moved to Calgary from Lebanon as a student, is helping organize the event.“Syria and Lebanon, geographically to me feels like one country,” Azzam said.“We are separated by a border, but passports drop when we see humanity calling us. It touches so many people here and it touched me a bit closer because I’ve been to Syria. Syria is a beautiful country –the Syrian people are beautiful people. They are also my people, and so it is with someone in Ukraine — they are also my people. So this touches my heart,” Azzam said.Even before the earthquakes, getting aid to parts of Syria came with political and logistical challenges.For years, foreign aid has been brought into northwestern Syria through Turkey because of the difficulty of going through Damascus. Now, southern Turkey has been heavily damaged by the earthquake and Bashar Assad’s government in Damascus is still facing sanctions“It makes it so much more difficult to get the stuff to Syria than in Türkey,” Azzam said. Story continues below advertisement “Syrians have been holding on to a very thin thread of hope and that thin thread of hope snapped after the earthquake.”Even though Mhana started her life over again when she fled the war in Syria, she’s thankful to be in Canada where she can help those in greater need.“I am begging people to care,” she said. “In Syria, they have to start from scratch. They sweat, they spend their lives building these houses and now they have nothing. There’s nothing left for those people.“People in Canada are affected by the inflation and they are struggling, but if you think about your daily life, we are very blessed and we have everything to thrive not to survive, but people there are starving for a loaf of bread.”The Rise from the Rubble event will be held on March 18.“This is a cultural event. There’s going to be music and food and poetry. There’s going to be people from that region.  Their hands are a bit tied so they’re going there just to offer support,” Azzam said.“This event is a chance for everyone to come and learn about Syria, learn about our music. Story continues below advertisement “One hundred per cent of the proceeds go to people on the ground who we know are working night and day to help and support.” &copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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