Samer, Bille, and Ali

(From left to right) Samer Al Jbawi, Bille Avdalla, and Ali Malash of the Somali Centre for Family Services. The Ottawa-based community hub for newcomers raised more than $20,000 for UNHCR in support of Syrians displaced by the ongoing crisis.

By Lauren La Rose

Samer Kanan is living proof of the power of paying it forward.

The Syrian-born refugee resettled in Canada, where he has spent the past two years working at the Somali Centre for Family Services in Ottawa.

When the centre opened in 1991, it was originally established to respond to the large influx of Somali newcomers, with a focus towards preserving culture and heritage. Yet, it became clear the needs extended into the area of settlement, integration, and counselling.

“The two major things really I’m focusing on are to help people learn English and to help them understand the Canadian culture,” said Samer.


The centre has welcomed newcomers from a vast range of backgrounds and nationalities, while remaining mindful of the millions worldwide in desperate need of support.

The ongoing conflict in Syria was the focus of renewed attention earlier this year as an escalation in fierce fighting in areas including eastern Ghouta resulted in the displacement of thousands of Syrians.

“We noticed how UNHCR was trying to support civilians with food and shelter and medical help,” recalled Kanan of the emergency humanitarian response.

The centre partnered with the local Syrian community to raise funds for civilians in Ghouta. They also hoped the event would help bring together a diverse group of residents to learn from and support Syrian neighbours.

The fundraiser featured a dinner of traditional Syrian foods, and included a screening of a short film showing the current realities of life in Syria.

More than $20,000 was raised for UNHCR.

“People should know that UNHCR is a very trusted organization,” said Kanan. “We trust their staff and we believe that they are working very hard to deliver donations to people who are in need.

“We know that their staff are on the ground and they are in direct touch with the crises happening all over the world, especially in Syria.”

Samer also reflected on his own time as a refugee in Jordan, which included a month-long stay at the Za’atari Camp, as testimony to UNHCR’s work in the field.

“I saw the UNHCR staff and I know how they used to help as much as they can. That’s why we selected UNHCR.”

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