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A generous spirit of volunteerism: a Montreal student takes matters into her own hands

Mahzad Sharifahmadian (third from right) and the group of volunteers gathered for a group picture after the event, Montreal, Canada

Mahzad Sharifahmadian (third from right) and the group of volunteers gathered for a group picture after the event, Montreal, Canada

OTTAWA, Canada, January 17 (UNHCR) – After several months of helplessly watching the horrors in Syria unfold on the media, 26-years old  Mahzad Sharifahmadian, a PhD candidate in Biochemistry at the University of Montreal, decided to take matters into her own hands. 

In an effort to help out, Sharifahmadian undertook the responsibility of designing tags and organizing a group of volunteers to help convince Montrealers to open their wallets and support Syrian refugee children.

On Christmas Eve, a group of about 20 volunteers gathered outside Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica, talking to people lined up for Christmas mass. They distributed flyers underlining the staggering number of Syrian children displaced by the conflict and directed those wishing to take action to UNHCR’s online Syria Emergency campaign.

“Not even the frigid cold (minus 30 degrees Celsius) stopped us. I had seen back in October the UNHCR report on Syrian refugee children.  I felt so bad. I was upset at the situation and frustrated that I couldn’t do anything,” said Sharifahmadian.

“So, I decided to give my time by supporting the UNHCR campaign and called my friends to assist. We thought Christmas time was the best time to do this as people are more inclined to share during the festive season.”

A volunteer handing out a tag to an individual preparing to attend the Christmas Eve mass at the Notre-Dame Basilica, Montreal, Canada

A volunteer handing out a tag to an individual preparing to attend the Christmas Eve mass at the Notre-Dame Basilica, Montreal, Canada

The event was successful and built momentum for the volunteers to do even more. In collaboration with Montreal artists, Sharifahmadian and her group are now planning to organize an exhibition, proceeds from which will be donated to UNHCR.

By Gisèle Nyembwe in Ottawa, Canada