By Zaynab Ali
A Place for Passion audio
We live in world where most of us can’t seem to detach ourselves from the internet. Where everywhere we go our Facebook feeds are constantly checked— you wouldn’t want to miss the latest update on Donald Trump’s life now would you? If only to pat yourself on the back and admire Trudeau’s face—admit it we all do that. Let’s not pretend we’re above gloating. I’d say we’re pretty much updated on the Kardashians latest drama—even if most of us don’t want to be we are, and it seems like Drake doesn’t take a step onto the streets of Toronto without us knowing about it. Now, does that make us stalkers? Most probably, yes. But that’s a topic for another episode all together.
So, I’m sure we’ve all seen, while aimlessly scrolling through our news feeds, the picture of the three-year old Syrian boy lying lifelessly on a beach. Yeah, that one. The one that sparked outrage and was the last straw for people around the world. It was this picture that made us all realize that we had had enough. We couldn’t just stand by anymore as innocents suffered. Up until then we were all sitting on our couches, and shaking our heads as the world slowly crumbled apart: one refugee at a time. We all silently questioned the state of humanity as the number of Syrian refugees skyrocketed to 11 million (Bel-Air) while most of us were still eating out of the same bag of chips. While we complained about having to get up and walk all the way to the kitchen for a glass of water, Syrian refugees, who are people just like you and I except they’re forced to leave their homes, their work, their schools, their family and friends behind because of war and violence, they were trying to find a way out of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time (“Quick Facts”). In fact, this is the largest amount of refugees the world has seen since World War II (Khouri and Mourani). Yeah, the worst since Hitler. In fact, for all the Yankee fans out there, did you know that there are enough refuges in the world right now, to fill 200 Yankee stadiums? That’s about 203 Rogers Centers (“Quick Facts”). By the end of the year half of Syria is expected to be in need of help (“UNHCR Stories from Syrian Refugees”).
Welcome to today’s episode of A Place for Passion, “Humanity Reborn.” I’m your host Zaynab Ali, and as the number of refugees keep rising, I can’t help but ask the one question everyone seems to shy away from. The why behind it all. Why are we all just shaking our heads before wiping our hands on our jeans and turning off the news? Why are we just sitting? Are we expecting the world to be full of flowers and rainbows when we wake up the next morning? Yes, the sun still rises the next day and the day after that but it doesn’t necessarily rise on a perfect world, does it? I understand that most of us are just trying to make sense of our own lives, but why are we just assuming that someone else will take care of the world for us. Unfortunately, I’m guilty of that too. Maybe it’s time we took our feet off our couches and started asking, “Why?” Let’s dig deeper and go beyond CNN and FOX NEWS. Let’s do something with our own two hands rather than just passionately talking about it.
Okay, disclaimer though, I’m not going to pretend like this idea of actually doing something with our two hands was entirely my idea because it’s not. It was actually what motivated one Ryerson graduate to go beyond just donating. His name is Mohamed Khattab and he decided that donating money wasn’t enough for him. He wanted to see change with his own eyes. He wanted to be there to see the smiles erupt on the children’s faces. Quite simply, he wanted to make a difference with his own hands so, he formed a group called A Hope 4 Humanity.
When I asked Khattab to tell me a little bit about A Hope 4 Humanity what was interesting to me was that he sees the refugees in a completely different light than the rest of us do.
Khattab: Refugee families are a symbol of hope and of strength.
Well, isn’t that completely different from the way most of us see them? To us, we’re the symbol of hope for them, but no, not to Khattab. To Khattab, they’re the ones who are the ultimate symbol of hope and of strength and he’s right, because if you look at it since the war began in 2011 it’s killed over 250,000 people. About 22 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, and 6.1 million people are internally displaced.
The kicker, though? More than 50% of Syrian Refugees are children (“Quick Facts”).
These people have endured the worst and are simply looking for a safe place to settle and to live their lives. And Khattab tells me that’s what Ryerson university and lifeline Syria Challenge is all about. The non-profit citizen led group sponsors thousands of refugees, and that’s who his group, a Hope 4 Humanity, partnered up with. A group of people trying to give the families a safe place to live.
Now, every story has a beginning, and for A Hope 4 Humanity, their story begins with him.
In mid-2015, Mohammed Khattab was just like us, looking at the news, but the next thing that happens is what makes him different than most of us.
Khattab: I felt like I had to do something. Giving money or giving money to an organization wasn’t enough for me. Giving charity, I felt like I needed to do something more than just giving charity. I had to do something more.
This is the moment when he knew he couldn’t just go on watching the crisis unfold. He needed to something to help.
He gathered a team of five other Ryerson graduates and together, with the help of Ryerson University and Lifeline Syria, they privately sponsored a Syrian refugee family. It took them about seven months to sponsor the family of four: mom, dad and 2 little girls. It took them seven months to gather all of the documents, which was a little hard seeing as the displaced Syrian family settled in Lebanon after living in Syria their whole lives (Khattab). But finally, after seven months of collecting $35,000 in donations the family was approved, and in September 2015 the family landed in Toronto with new hope for their future (Baig).
But, now what? They’re here away from Syria. Away from their homes. Away from everything they know. Now what do you do?
Khattab: So, we start engaging them into the community, integrating them into the community.
That means it’s now time to show them their new home. Maybe even give them a tour of their local Tim Hortons. Get them registered and make sure they get their health cards, but most importantly it’s time to show them what to stay away from.
Khattab: Don’t go to Gucci, don’t go to Guess. Don’t get those Gucci bags. Stay away from those places.
I think it’s time we all learned to stay away from Gucci and Guess, but that’s definitely easier said than done.
Now, I promised all of you that I would ask why, and since I keep promises I asked Mohammed Khattab why he formed the team.
Mohammed Khattab spent a great deal of time explaining the process of sponsoring the family, the time it took, the way he formed the team, all the hard work they did to accomplish their goal, and then he said something I still can’t shake off my mind:
Khattab: Families leave their business, their homes, everything they have. Imagine you have to leave your home and go to an adjacent country or somewhere and you don’t have your family, you don’t have your businesses, you have to pull your kids from school. It’s a mess, and so if we put ourselves in their shoes…
The thing is, I’m a little scared to imagine that because it’s terrifying. If I put myself in their shoes, If I were forced to leave my home and watch as my country crumbled to the ground…honestly, I’d want to come to a place like Canada. The place we 35 million people call home (“Population by Year”)
But what if I weren’t Canadian? Would Canada welcome me with open arms? Would Canadians welcome me into their homes knowing that I’m an Arab, I’m a Syrian, and I’m a refugee? Or would they shy away and discreetly close their curtains and lock their doors?
Before I talk about Canada, I just want to highlight that it’s not just Canadians who are closing their doors to Syrian refugees. In the United States, 31 States declared that they wouldn’t accept any refugees. That’s half the nation! Half of the governors in the United States said no to refugees. Why? Well, some of the Governors say it’s part of a national program. While others say they want them to be screened for any security threats (Fantz and Brumfield).
Now, when the Liberal Party came into power Canada pledged to bring in 25,000 refugees (“Syrian Refugees”) and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won the hearts of Canadians across the nation who were positive they wanted to help with the Syrian refugee crisis. But what about those weren’t so sure? Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, there’s still a vast majority of Canadians who are a little uncomfortable with welcoming Syrian refugees. In fact, this might shock you—or it might not—more than 70% of Canadians don’t support the Federal Government bringing in more than 25,000 Syrian Refugees, and 2 in 5 people think Canada should stop bringing in Syrian refugees immediately (Hobson).
So, I guess this answers the question why the process has slowed down. Why, all of a sudden after reaching its goal of 25,000 Syrian refugees February 2016, Canada slowed down its resettlement plan. Immigration Minister John McCallum stated back in February that now that Canada had reached its goal the speed at which refugees will arrive will diminish (Zilio). Families who just want the basic necessities like food, water, and a safe place to live will now be coming into Canada at a slower rate.
And speaking of safety, isn’t that the one thing we’re all grateful to have in our lives? Well, it looks like even though Syrian refugees are escaping the war in their home land, their search for safety hasn’t ended in Canada.
A Calgary school was vandalized with the message “Syrians: Go Home and Die” (The Canadian Press). A group of Syrian refugees was pepper sprayed in Vancouver (Omand) and in Peterborough, a mosque was lit on fire (Perkel).
So yeah, we are the home of the “strong” and of the “free”. But unfortunately, we are also home to individuals who don’t believe that Canada is home of the refugees.
The world is losing its symbols of hope and of strength. And when these symbols look a little different, or act a little different, or come from a different place there are people who would rather turn away. In fact. Conservative MP Kellie Leitch and 2/3 of Canadians, want to screen immigrants “anti-Canadian” values (Campion-Smith). According to Leitch, anti-Canadian values range from intolerance towards other religions to a lack of acceptance of Canadian traditions and values (Tunney)
Now looking around just Toronto, one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world, I can’t help but notice that there is only one value that makes us all Canadian, one value that makes us part of Canada, and that value is called diversity.
And when Kelley Leitch implies that it’s the immigrants that hold anti-immigrant values, I have to say that it’s the multiculturalism of Canada that makes us all Canadian.
Canada—the country with the highest per-capita immigration rate in the world (Vancity 2). The country where one out of every 5 people is are of foreign birth (“Immigration and Ethnocultural Diversity in Canada”).
Daniel Hiebert a professor at the university of British Columbia states (that for Canada), our diversity isn’t just one majority group telling the minorities you’re okay, because we accept you. No. It’s about all the cultures coming together to make one Canadian culture.
Remember that mosque that was set on fire in Peterborough? In an Address, Justin Trudeau stated that in response, “the community rallied, and raised more than $110,000 in two days to help the Muslim community rebuild. United in faith, members of Christian and Jewish communities opened their doors—literally opened their doors—to give their Muslim neighbors a place to pray. Those are Canadian values” (Trudeau). When the whole community, religious and non-religious alike, come together to support one another that’s what Canada’s all about.
So, in an ideal world bringing in refugees to Canada would be a way to enrichen our multiculturalism. It would be a way of painting the colours of our values for the world to see, but unfortunately that’s not the case. And plus, in an ideal world, I suppose we wouldn’t have to answer uncomfortable questions like: why is Canada letting down itself and not speeding up the Syrian refugee resettlement process? Because in an ideal world we wouldn’t have wars and we wouldn’t have violence that would displace 24 people every minute. Yes, that’s a fact. In 2015, every minute produced 24 newly displaced refugees (“What is a Refugee”).
But what happens when you actually help these refugees and give them hope for the future? Mohammed Khattab tells us the feeling you get when you help even one person in need…
Khattab: I don’t know if I can explain it to you because you really have to do it to feel it. When you see someone on the streets, and you give them money and they pray for you and you put a smile on somebody’s face. When you help a child out, or when you just know someone’s in need and you help them and you see that look on their face…it’s just something else. And when you know you lifted—or you help lift—some person out of some financial difficulty or some conflict or some misery, and you help them get out of that it’s very addictive you want to do more to help more people. I don’t know how to explain it. When you actually contribute to that work and you see the people’s faces and you interact with them, and you see how much your help is going a long way to help them in their lives…it’s just a different feeling and I can’t explain it.
That unexplainable feeling that Mohammed talks about is the result of going from simply scrolling through your phone and seeing the pain to actually trying to take the pain away. It’s when you go from caring to passionately contributing to society and to the world.
After hearing the man who couldn’t stop talking about why he started A Hope 4 Humanity, search for words to describe the feeling of lifting someone up…how could you not want to get in on that?
So let’s do it. Let’s help by donating, volunteering and …
Khattab: Literally, physically take yourself out of your couch watching CNN doing whatever you do in the background and get involved.”
Why, you ask?
Khattab: When you bring in a refugee family, don’t think of it as an expense. Think of it as a benefit. You are bringing in somebody with knowledge probably somebody with work experience who’s going to get a job and contribute to Canadian society, right?
Justin Trudeau said, “It’s easy, in a country like Canada, to take diversity for granted. In so many ways, it’s the air we breathe” (Trudeau).
So why are we trying to cut off the source of our air by denying the Syrian refugees a safe place to take their next breath?
Khattab: Let’s try to help other families. Let’s continue helping families.
Scratch media audio
Baig, Farhan. Personal Interview. 4. Oct. 2016.
Bel-Air, Françoise De. “The Syrian Refugee Crisis and Its Repercussions for the EU.” Syrian Refugees, syrianrefugees.eu/.
Campion-Smith, Bruce. “Canadians Favour Screening Would-Be Immigrants for 'Anti-Canadian' Values, Poll Shows | Toronto Star.” Thestar.com, 10 Sept. 2016, www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/09/10/canadians-favour-screening-immigrant-values-poll-shows.html.
Fantz, Ashley, and Ben Brunfield. “Syrian Refugees not Welcome in 31 U.S. States.” CNN, Cable News Network, 19 Nov. 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/16/world/paris-attacks-syrian-refugees-backlash/.
Hiebert, Daniel. What’s So Special about Canada? Understanding the Resilience of Immigration and Multiculturalism. Migration Policy Institute, Washington, DC, 2016, pp. 1-21.
Hobson, Kelly. “More than 70% of Canadians Think Liberals' New Refugee Target Is Too High: Poll.” National Post, 19 Feb. 2016, news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/majority-of-canadians-dont-want-to-take-in-more-than-25000-syrian-refugees-new-poll.
“Immigration and Ethnocultural Diversity in Canada.” Statistics Canada, 15 Sept. 2016, www12.statcan.gc.ca/nhs-enm/2011/as-sa/99-010-x/99-010-x2011001-eng.cfm.
Khattab, Muhammed. Personal Interview. 4 Nov. 2016.
Khouri, Raja, and Samir Mourani. “Living up to a Noble Tradition on Syrian Refugees.” “Quick Facts: What You Need to Know About The Syria Crisis.” Mercy Corps, 13 Oct. 2016, www.mercycorps.org/articles/iraq-jordan-lebanon-syria-turkey/quick-facts-what-you-need-know-about-syria-crisis.
Omand, Geordon. “Syrian Rrefugees Pepper-Sprayed in Vancouver Still Grateful to Canadians.” Thestar.com, 13 Jan. 2016, www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/01/13/syrian-refugees-pepper-sprayed-in-vancouver-still-grateful-to-canadians.html.
Perkel, Colin. “Mosque Fire in Peterborough Was Hate Crime, Say Police .” Thestar.com, 16 Nov. 2015, www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015/11/16/mosque-fire-in-peterborough-was-hate-crime-say-police.html.
“Population by Year, by Province and Territory.” Statistics Canada, Government of Canada, 28 Aug. 2016, www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/demo02a-eng.html.
“Quick Facts: What You Need to Know About The Syria Crisis.” Mercy Corps, 13 Oct. 2016, www.mercycorps.org/articles/iraq-jordan-lebanon-syria-turkey/quick-facts-what-you-need-know-about-syria-crisis.
“Syrian Refugees.” Real Change, Liberal Party, www.liberal.ca/realchange/syrian-refugees/.
The Canadian Press. “Trudeau Responds to Graffiti on Calgary School That Tells 'Syrians Go Home and Die' and Calls Him a 'Traitor'.” National Post, 16 Feb. 2016, news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/canadian-politics/trudeau-responds-to-graffiti-on-calgary-school-that-tells-syrians-go-home-and-die-and-calls-him-a-traitor.
Trudeau, Justin. “Diversity Is Canada's Strength.” Diversity is Canada's Strength, 30 Nov. 2016, London, UK, Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2015/11/26/diversity-canadas-strength.
Tunney, Catharine. “Kellie Leitch Defends 'Anti-Canadian Values' Survey Question.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 2 Sept. 2016, www.cbc.ca/news/politics/leitch-responds-survey-question-1.3746470.
“UNHCR Stories from Syrian Refugees.” UNHCR, data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/syria.php.
Vancity. “From Crisis to Community: Syrian Refugees and the B.C. Economy.” Nov. 2015.
“What Is a Refugee.” USA for UNHCR, www.unrefugees.org/what-is-a-refugee/.
Zilio, Michelle. “Liberals' Revised Goal Met as 25,000th Syrian Refugee Arrives in Canada.” The Globe and Mail, OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail, 29 Feb. 2016, www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/liberals-revised-goal-met-as-25000th-syrian-refugee-arrives-in-canada/article28944527/.
For more information on Canada's 'road ahead' and their Syrian refugee plan click here
For more information on Lifeline Syria please visit their website
I would like to thank my Professors, Stephanie Bell for sharing the love of podcasts and for always keeping her lectures informative and interesting, and to Keith O’Regan who told me to, “Get rid of the chips!” and whose guidance and patience gave this podcast depth. This podcast would not have been possible without you. Thank you!
Thank you to Mohammed Khattab who made time for an interview that ran longer than expected. Thank you for sharing your passion for your project, your love for Ryerson University, and for agreeing to let me tell your story.
Thank you to Farhan Baig who sent out an email a year ago, and introduced me to A Hope 4 Humanity. You saved my assignment.
I would also like to thank Zainab Al-Mehdar for her enthusiasm and her valuable feedback. Thanks for helping me shape this podcast into what it is now.
Thank you to my brother Zubair for pretending to listen to me as I obsessed about this for three months, and to my sister Nishaat for once again solving my (math) problems.
A big thank you to my parents for letting me do what I love, and not thrusting a stethoscope in my hands.