Syrian Student Association raises funds, awareness and hopeWritten by Chelby Daigle
Yaman Marwah and Rama Imadi are the founders of the Syrian Association of Ottawa (SAO) which began as a regular university-based students' cultural association.
Mr. Marwah, SAO's President, is a 4th year student in Law and Economics at Carleton University. Ms. Imadi, SAO's Vice-President, is a 4th year student in Linguistics at the University of Ottawa. Both were galvanized by the March 2011 revolution in Syria to take action to raise awareness about the struggle of Syria's people against the regime.
As the situation devolved into one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, they decided to find a way to help those affected by the conflict directly by fundraising. When asked why they would take on the work of developing a regular students' association into a non-profit in order to deliver humanitarian aid to their homeland, Ms. Imadi's answer is simple, “We couldn't stay still.” Thus, the Syrian Students' Association in Ottawa (SSAO) became the Syrian Association of Ottawa (SAO).
SAO has developed a reputation for using unconventional tactics to get people's attention such as Flash Mobs at the Rideau Centre to Candle Light Vigils in the ByWard Market on a Friday night.
“People don't care anymore so you need to raise awareness in a totally different way. If you rally in the street people will say ”˜Oh, it's that Syrian group again' but if you change the way you do it like a rally, a vigil, a Flash Mob, maybe a dance event, people will notice and you will be able to engage people in different ways,” Mr. Marwah explained.
He feels it's important in particular for the average Canadian to know what is happening.
“Canadians need to know what's going on. It's an international crisis that is soon going to become an international war,” he explained, “The Americans are on the Syrian border. In Libya's case, Canadians intervened so it was resolved very fast. For Syria, it's been two years. The Canadian government said they were going to help, said they were going to send money, said they were going to bring 15,000 refugees and we haven't seen any anything, just speeches. If more Canadian people stood with us in this cause, we will probably see more action from the Canadian government.”
SAO also delivers humanitarian aid to Syrians still in the country.
“Everyone is supporting refugees. If we are talking just in Canada, over 10 non-profit organizations are raising money for refugees. But we are able to go inside Syria itself,” he explained.
Both Mr. Marwah and Ms. Imadi have visited Syria to deliver desperately needed supplies in camps for internally displaced Syrians, such as Killis Camp in the suburbs of Aleppo.
The funds SAO raises through events like the August 2nd Ramadan Fundraising Gala, which raised $15,000, all go towards humanitarian aid. “We don't use these funds for administration,” Mr. Marwah emphasized. But SAO is doing more than just buying supplies; they have created a bakery in partnership with Watan Organization's Khayr Charity, in order to provide bread to Syrians who are having difficulty accessing local bakeries, particularly as many were destroyed during the violence.
Mr. Marwah and Ms. Imadi feel that a few of the reasons why they have accomplished so much as an organization in such a short period of time are because they are youth-led and are focused on getting things done, not titles or recognition.
“To us, when we have our Board meetings, we forget about ”˜Oh he's President. I'm Vice-President. She's Secretary.' We just come together at the same table, at the same level, everyone hears each other out, and everyone votes on the idea they like the most. We don't use any kind of authority over anybody else, we just try to be as equal as we can,” Ms. Imadi explained.
In their small way, SAO is developing a democratic culture which they hope will continue to help their homeland as it faces the current crisis and one day help it build a peaceful future.
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