FEATURE: Syrian hearts in Montreal

Shereen Ahmed Rafea | VP Communications

Shereen ProlfileThree Syrian Canadians are facing everyday life, with a war in the background.

 Each of them have day jobs, families and friends. Along with several other people, they began collecting money, selling art and gathering funds to send abroad to stranded Syrians. However, the situation in Syria kept escalating and the need never stopped. The suffering was tremendous and the number of displaced people mounted.

 “ On our own we cannot do much, we sent all the money we had, all the savings we had, so we needed help,” said Hala Maatouk, the president of “ A Heart for Syria”, a newly established charity organization.

 Two other members, Joseph Masri and Lama Shakar jokingly refer to her as “ the boss” and the brains behind the group. Their team also includes other executive and volunteer members.  The proceeds of their fundraisers are sent to aid groups inside Syria, to help provide food and clothes to those in need. They operate from Maatouk’s house and have created a website and Facebook page.

Courtesy of " A Heart for Syria"

Courtesy of ” A Heart for Syria”

 Maatouk is especially concerned about refugees, who face many obstacles. “ People inside, in some places, you cannot even reach those,” she said.

Shakar also shared a similar view, adding, “ Inside Syria, some people even live under a tree.”

The violence has also made it difficult for aid to enter the county. Maatouk says that sometimes arms pass through the borders easier then basic necessities. Safety concerns for aid workers are the reality.

  A Heart for Syria’s goal is to help as many Syrians as possible, by helping organizations on the ground. The dangerous situation in the country makes it difficult to disclose names and locations. So far the money they sent went towards obtaining food and clothes.

“ If we save a life a week, for us it’s an accomplishment,” says Maatouk.

 Since the uprising started almost two years ago, there have also been clashes between different sects inside Syria. However the group maintains that politics is not a part of their agenda. This is why they do not allow any political posting on their website or Facebook pages.

 Maatouk emphasizes this point by saying: “ I tell everybody, our political ideas are personal, they have nothing to do with our organization.”

“Every individual in Syria deserves to live with dignity and achieve

his potential to become an active citizen within the society”

– A Heart for Syria Mission statement

 Maatouk also mentions, that it doesn’t matter if you are pro, against, Christian, Muslim, or Alawat, in the end they are all Syrian.

 It is difficult to balance the demands of everyday life with their work. However Maatouk says that they cannot go on doing the things they did before. What is happening is Syria makes it difficult to focus. The magnitude of the devastation never leaves their thoughts. This is why fundraising and keeping the projects going is important to them. The three of them have been friends for over ten years. Although Montreal is their home, their ties to Syria never went away.

 “ Because we are Syrian, we have a lot of friends, it’s our country, even if we left,” she says. Maatouk has friends who lost family members in the war.

 All three have family or friends in Syria and deal with the daily news and worries.

“ Everyday we hear somebody that was kidnapped …or somebody who lost his house, everyday we hear news like that,” says Shakar

 The power outages are also a concern. “ Even in Aleppo, I have family…usually now, three, four days no electricity,” she says, adding,  “ It was freezing there.

 The first step is helping with immediate need. On the long run, the road to rebuilding and starting over is ahead of them all.

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