A refugee reaches out to help Fort McMurray’s displaced

Part of Basel Abou Hamrah' desire to help is prompted by a need to give back to Canadians who helped him

HAMILTON, Ont. / Troy Media/ – For Basel Abou Hamrah, the difference between an evacuee and a refugee was a simple matter of months and of who was helping whom.

The 27-year-old Syrian accountant arrived in Edmonton on New Year’s Eve, 2016, as one of the refugees being helped to resettle here from that wartorn country.

Four months later, he signed up as a volunteer at Edmonton’s evacuee reception centre to help residents of Fort McMurray forced to flee south from the wildfire that destroyed much of their northern Alberta community.

Enfolding those events were the two years he spent in a Lebanese refugee camp where his dreams died and came back to life again.

“In the camp in Lebanon, my dreams went to the graveyard,” he said over coffee after completing his first shift at the massive reception centre in an Edmonton shopping mall. “At first, I had hope we would be there for maybe three months. Then I began to think I might never go home again. When I was told I was going to Canada, I began living again. My dreams came back to life.”

A Druze Christian, with a faith rooted in all three of the great Abrahamic monotheisms, Basel returned to his neighbourhood outside Damascus to find his house had been demolished by shelling. In the morning, he’d gone to work after spending the night in a makeshift basement bomb shelter. That afternoon, he was homeless. It is not a figure of speech for him to say he knew how the residents of Fort McMurray felt.

More than 80,000 of them were evacuated from the city by the wildfire. It’s estimated that one in 10 lost everything. Like Basel, they knew the sense of panic, the sense of the world disappearing beneath their feet. Like him, too, they had no idea how long it will be until they can return and begin to rebuild their lives.

“It’s not just the (physical) things you have. It’s all the memories. The place where those memories were born, the room where a memory took place, your street, everything is gone. For me, it felt like I was without a soul, that I was just a body eating and sleeping, without purpose. It is so hard not to lose hope.”

In the privacy of his own faith, in the depersonalized ethos of the Lebanese camp, Basel turned to God as a refuge for the refugee.

“I asked God to please make me strong. I told him I would be patient. I told Him ‘I know you will help me and not let me down.’ But it was very, very hard.”

On Christmas Day, he said, he prayed in the morning that God would “give the gift” of letting his refugee application for Canada be approved. Laughing, he added that he had a word, too, with a paper Santa Claus just for good luck. That evening, he got the call that he should get ready to travel to his new home.

Within a few weeks of arriving in Canada, he was volunteering as an English-Arabic translator for an Edmonton winter festival. He has done other volunteer work since, so the chance to help the Fort McMurray evacuees was one he jumped at.

Part of his desire to help was prompted by a need to give back to Canadians who helped him. Part of it is his understanding of what they are going through.

“At first, you feel so lucky to be alive, to have escaped. But they will wonder when they are going to go home, even if they will go home. It can be very hard not to become hopeless while you’re waiting like that.

“I know what it’s like when the waiting ends and you can say ‘God, it’s not a dream. I’m going to have my home again.’ I can tell them to be focused on knowing they are part of a beautiful community. Everything will come back. God will not let you down.”

 

– Peter Stockland is a senior fellow with Cardus, and publisher of Convivium magazine.

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Vavenby resident working at refuge witnesses volcano eruption

By Robyn Rexin Twenty-seven-year-old Vavenby resident Vienna Moilliet is working as a… Continue reading

Back in time

55 YEARS AGO: A toboggan party was enjoyed by the Teen Town… Continue reading

Clearwater’s North Thompson Complex packed with Winterfest fun

By K.A. Pendergrast Friday, Jan.17 helped kick off the Clearwater Hockey Days/Winterfest… Continue reading

Literacy Week coming to Clearwater with lots of reading-related events

Clearwater will be celebrating Family Literacy Week (Jan. 26 to Feb. 2)… Continue reading

Don’t be surprised to see Vikings in Wells Gray

The Vikings are coming to Clearwater. On Feb. 1, the Wells Gray… Continue reading

Officials reaching out to those in contact with Canada’s first coronavirus patient

The illness has sickened at least 1,975 people and killed 56 in China

Canada’s basketball community mourns Kobe Bryant after helicopter crash

Bryant was an 18-time NBA all-star who won five championships

‘Devastated’: Fans, celebrities remember Kobe Bryant after his death

Bryant played all of his 20-year career with the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe Bryant, daughter killed in California helicopter crash

Bryant entered the NBA draft straight out of high school in 1996

Investigation launched after six dead puppies dumped in Richmond hotel parking lot

RAPS reminds people they can always give up puppies they can’t take care of

Canadian Lunar New Year celebrations dampened by coronavirus worries

But Health Minister Patty Hajdu said today that the risk of infection is low

B.C. VIEWS: New coronavirus outbreak an important reminder

Walking the line between cautious and alarmist

Risk of coronavirus low in B.C. as first case emerges in Toronto: officials

There have been no confirmed cases of the virus in B.C.

Most Read