Not a phone call goes by that Merell Awad doesn’t end the conversation with an ‘I love you’ to her mother.
She knows it could be the last time she talks to her ailing mother who lives in Syria under the threat of attack.
“I talk to her every day, we say ‘I love you’ and we don’t know if we’ll talk again,” Awad says. “Every day you deal with that.”
Awad, co-owner of Campbell River’s BaBa Gannouj restaurant, wrestles with the fear and anxiety that comes with knowing her family is stuck in war-torn Syria.
She says the attacks are getting closer to her family’s hometown and recently the windows of her mother’s home were blown out.
“Two rockets landed near her house,” Awad says. “All the glass is broken but she’s safe.
“ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham) is 10 minutes away from my city, you don’t know when it’s going to hit,” she adds. “A lot of rockets have landed. Lately, a rocket landed in a school not far from my niece’s school. It’s very stressful.”
That’s in Latakia – which is considered the safest area of Syria.
“Latakia is not safe, but it’s the safest place in Syria,” Awad says.
Her mother, who is in her 70s, has one leg and heart problems, is just one of 12 family members Awad and her husband, Fouad, are trying to bring to Canada as the civil war in Syria rages on.
“ISIS is killing almost anyone who isn’t with them, so we’re trying to help the kids, women, and a couple of men,” Awad says. “One is my mom, she needs medical care, my two sisters, their kids (each has two), their husbands and two cousins. A friend is stuck in Jordan.”
Ironically, one of those children is Awad’s nephew, Elias, whom Campbell Riverites rallied to raise money for five years ago so he could receive a kidney transplant when he was just 10 years old.
“That kid the community helped needs help again to survive,” Awad says.
Her nephew needs life-long medication and because of the drug shortage in Syria, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for his parents to secure the medication he needs.
“Because of the lack of medication, sometimes they get medication that’s expired,” Awad says.
On top of the medicine shortage, food is also hard to come by.
Awad’s family has become victim to astronomical price hikes in Latakia. Awad desperately wants to help her family escape Syria.
Enter Tom Hartz, a loyal BaBa Gannouj customer. He’s also familiar with strife and struggle. He worked in Nepal during a civil war. He worked in China and saw those around him struggling to find enough to eat. His wife’s family hosted Vietnamese immigrants in the 70s and 80s, helping them get accustomed to Canadian life and soften their landing on our shores.
“I just have an interest in helping people,” Hartz says.
So Hartz approached the local Anglican Church, which he’d heard had been involved with refugee and immigration issues in the past.
Awad soon met Mary Cook, a parishioner at St. Peter’s Anglican church, and things took off.
The church, which has the authority to sponsor refugees, has agreed to help the Awads and, along with help from the community, is trying to raise a minimum of $150,000 to bring Awad’s 12 family members to Campbell River. That will sponsor the families for roughly a year, paying for their rent, Hydro, food and other integration costs.
Cook says this will be the local Anglican church’s fourth successful sponsorship. The church has also sponsored refugees from Pakistan, Bosnia and Kosovo.
Awad calls Cook her “angel” and is positive she will soon see her family again.
To help them raise their $150,000 goal, the Awads, with the help of the Anglican church and other members of the community, are hosting a fundraiser on Saturday, Oct. 3 at the Community Centre. The event features a silent auction, a traditional Syrian dinner and belly dancing.
Tickets, available at Bab Gannouj, are $40 per adult and $10 for children under 12. The doors open at 6 p.m., with dinner being served at 7 p.m.