Saturday, 03 March 2018 04:58

Swift Current resident starts fundraising campaign after visiting a refugee camp

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Swift Current resident Sammy Khalife with children in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon. Swift Current resident Sammy Khalife with children in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon. Photo submitted

A Swift Current resident has started a GoFundMe campaign to sponsor a refugee family from Syria after visiting a refugee camp in Lebanon.


Sammy Khalife is the health coordinator of the Swift Current and Area Ministerial Association (SCAMA) Refugee Committee.
“I wanted to get a first-hand experience, and let me tell you, it wasn't like anything you see on TV or anything that you hear of,” he said.
He received an invitation to visit a refugee camp after his family from Lebanon visited him in Swift Current last year.
“They talked to their friends and neighbours about the committee work and all of a sudden they started getting requests from refugee camps,” he explained. “[They] wanted Sammy to come and see – maybe he can pick a family from the camp or maybe he can send resources to help the camps.”
He was surprised to receive the request to visit a refugee camp and decided to go to get a personal perspective on the challenges facing Syrian refugees.
He was supposed to visit a larger camp in north Lebanon during the five-day trip, but he did not receive security clearance because the camp is close to the Syrian border and an area where the ISIS terror group is active.
“They told me ISIS members from Syria are on the border and because you have a Canadian passport, you're putting a risk on the refugee camp that the ISIS member will attack the camp just to take you, because you're Canadian,” he said.
As a result he went to a smaller refugee camp in south Lebanon that is not near the Syrian border.
“Usually in smaller camps the living conditions are better than the bigger camps,” he said. “Well, it was not, It was horrible conditions. The minute I walked in there, I became speechless.”
People live in tents that have to last for a year before it can be replaced and they will try to keep it together and fix it with pieces of plastic. There are no toilets and people will go to the bushes outside the camp, while they get water from a large tank inside the camp. People rely on packaged or canned food from the United Nations or food given to them by the local community.
“People become more creative as they live there for longer, but that doesn't change the fact that the basic requirements of life are not there,” he said. “There's always the idea they'll either go back to Syria when the war has ended or another country is going to take them. So at this point they have no rights. They can't work, they can't get out of camps, unless it's a medical emergency. So it's a jail.”
He noted that the presence of a large number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is creating additional tension in the country, which has experienced civil war in the past.
The plight of the children in the camp made a real impression on him. They do not receive any formal education and the only learning takes place as a result of classes provided by volunteers. He heard about cases of exploitation of girls by wealthy men from other countries who will come to the camps to offer money to families in exchange for taking their teenage girls with them.
“So when I was there, there was a real fear of such a situation,” he said. “Girls were coming to me with their refugee documents and saying to me 'Please try to have my family picked, because if no country picked them, I’m the victim,' and then I’ll ask what do you mean by you’re the victim, and I learned about the early marriage.”
The visit to the camp was an emotionally draining experience for him. He met people in dire situations and with expectations that he will be able to help them, which he knew was not possible.
“I’m usually a happy person, but if you look at my pictures, you’ll see my face is sad and I get tearful in my videos,” he said. “It was like an emotional storm. You have kids running to you with their refugee documents and saying 'Please, take this from me.' I was scared to even take it, because I didn’t want to give them the message just because I took that paper you’re the one going to come to Canada.”
One of the girls who followed him around in the camp made a real impression on him and he decided to try and assist her family by starting a GoFundMe campaign. Safaa asked him at different times during his time at the camp to help her family, because she does not want to end up like other girls who married at an early age.
“I just felt obligated that I need to help her,” he said. “It became personal. It’s not just a story I heard about. It’s someone that tell me you need to help me, and I felt useless.”
His goal is to raise $31,000 to sponsor the family of six people. This is the amount that will be required to file a private sponsorship application to Immigration Canada. If he does not reach his fundraising goal, he will donate the money to the SCAMA Refugee Committee to assist another family.
“I really want to do more,” he said. “I can’t go to bed knowing there is that child at risk and I want to make sure I did the best I can, and if I fail, I fail, but at least I want to make sure.”
Khalife is a health care worker and a Swift Current resident since July 2015. He grew up in Lebanon and came to Canada as a refugee at the age of 19. He was studying in the United States on a scholarship, but due to the war in Lebanon he could not return home and he also could not stay in the United States.
“So I applied to be a refugee to Canada because of the war,” he said. “Many of our towns were fully destroyed, including mine. They accepted my refugee claim in the embassy in Washington and they issued me a document to travel to Canada.”
He was studying business management in the United States and he could speak English, which helped him to get a job in Canada. He originally worked in the banking industry, but decided to study health sciences. After graduation he moved from Halifax to Swift Current, where he is working at the Cypress Regional Hospital.
He initially volunteered with the SCAMA Refugee Committee as a translator, because he speaks Arabic, and then became the health care coordinator.
“If there’s a message I can put out to the community, it's to keep an open mind about the refugees and helping the refugees, and to take it out of the political debate, because helping other humans should never be a political debate,” he said. “Jesus himself, the Lord, was a refugee. If people turned their back on him, the greatest thing that happened to humanity wouldn’t be there. So let’s keep an open mind.”
To make a donation to his GoFundMe campaign, go to the website www.gofundme.com/bring-safaa-her-family-to-canada. A link to this GoFundMe page as well as videos of his trip to the refugee camp are available on the Swift Current and Area Ministerial Association Refugee Committee Facebook page (@SCRefugee).
The SCAMA Refugee Committee is hosting their inaugural refugee settlement fundraising supper at the East Side Church of God on April 20 with entertainment by Keith Kitchen and a live and silent auction.
The event will highlight the progress and success of refugee families who have settled in Swift Current with the support of SCAMA, and it will also be a fundraiser for the refugee settlement fund.

Read 329 times Last modified on Saturday, 03 March 2018 13:30
Matthew Liebenberg

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