A small cup of applesauce puts a life in perspective

Tears begin to flow when Red Cross volunteer remembers one little refugee

Dave Stewart dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on March 6, 2016

Lynn MacLeod has been volunteering with the Canadian Red Cross for the past 11 years. She just returned from supervising volunteers in Montreal where she supported the Syrian refugee welcome operation.

©Guardian photo by Dave Stewart

Tears roll down the cheeks of a Canadian Red Cross volunteer from Charlottetown as she recalls how a small plastic cup of applesauce put life in perspective.

Lynn MacLeod was deployed to Montreal on Feb. 8, where for three weeks she supervised 100 Canadian Red Cross volunteers every day.       

These volunteers responded to the federal government's commitment to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of February.

It was MacLeod's job to take care of her volunteers so they could take care of the refugees. That meant repeated visits to the seven hotels where her volunteers were staying.

"Basically, from the moment they stepped off the airplane there was a Red Cross volunteer to greet them; to guide them with an interpreter,'' MacLeod says.

A welcome centre was set up where refugees picked up their federal papers, things like visas and their health cards. It was also where they could get a snack.

MacLeod handed one little girl a plastic cup of applesauce and thought nothing of it.

The girl's father was overwhelmed and got emotional at this kind gesture, thanking her repeatedly. He told her that where they come from, things are taken away from children.

Just telling the story makes MacLeod cry.

"I just wanted to give her some applesauce,'' she says, struggling with the words.

That's when it hit her. Something that so many people in Canada take for granted was considered by this little girl and her father to be a huge act of kindness.

Another Syrian man broke down in tears talking to MacLeod about how honoured he was to be in Canada, to be in a country where he knew his family would now be safe.

Suitcases might also help put things in perspective.

MacLeod flew to Montreal with a 48-pound suitcase, items she needed for a three-week stay.

Each of the Syrian refugees arrived in Canada with no more than 20 pounds, prepared to stay forever.

"Their whole life is in a suitcase of 20 pounds.''

MacLeod says the Syrians she encountered were teachers and social workers. They were highly educated people — middle class people prepared to work hard in Canada, prepared to learn the language, French and English.

"They were so strong. Even the children are resilient. You hardly saw them crying. There was no whining. They're not looking at us for handouts. They want to help. They want to learn the language and get jobs, to be functioning Canadians, to put their kids in school to get an education.''

MacLeod says she and all of the volunteers did their best to make the refugees feel safe and welcome.

"I just want them all to have a wonderful life here.''