Volunteer story: Natalie (Jul 16)

Beyond the camps

I volunteered with Refugee Support at the Alexandreia camp in July 2016; it was an experience of equal parts frustration, sweat and fun (I did not anticipate that!). I left with very mixed emotions, and a strong desire to continue putting my drop in the ocean of the refugee crisis.

Shortly after, I moved back to Canada, where the refugee crisis is an occasional feature on the evening news, not a flesh-and-blood reality. I was frustrated that the only apparent way to provide aid to the refugees was through donations; of course a vital part of the international response, but after my experience at the camps I also wanted to offer personal, practical help, with my own two hands.

Fast-forward six months, and I learned that my local community was finalizing the process of sponsoring a Syrian refugee family’s immigration to Canada. I volunteered to help with the family’s integration, and was assigned a role as an English tutor. The Al Maziad family arrived in April 2017, and were welcomed with a lot of love and maple leaves.

The little bit of Arabic language and cultural exposure I had at the camp provided an in-road in my relationship with the Al Maziads; our “English” tutoring sessions are now an English-Arabic language exchange, and they thoroughly enjoy laughing at my atrocious Arabic pronunciation. The Al Maziads give bountifully of everything they have, showering guests with tea, homemade Syrian delicacies, and enormous hospitality. Volunteers are doubly repaid for their efforts. Despite the significant language barrier (Google translate often creating more misunderstandings than it resolves), our relationship has blossomed in the sharing of time, food, and the universal language of laughter. Integration has been a hard road for the Al Maziads, through challenges of language, culture, isolation and loss. And yet they have taught me much about presence, joy and generosity. Their delight in things like ice cream cones, skipping rocks on the water or autumn leaves make me see my own world anew.

I am so grateful for how the Al Maziads have enriched my life and my community; this is how the perception of “immigrants” will change. Through relationship, turning “them” into “us”. I write this because I want to encourage those who have volunteered at the camps, or who have the desire to volunteer but lack the funds/time/ability – please find refugees in your own community, welcome them into your homes, and start the messy, ultimately rewarding journey of relationship with them. Your cup will overflow.

Thank-you to all the individuals who make Refugee Support happen – be encouraged that what you do has ripple effects far beyond the camps!

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