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P.E.I. fundraising walks part of worldwide effort to show solidarity with refugees

Wisam Abou Assali, who came to Canada in September 2016 after fleeing Syria with his family, speaks during a workshop for the diocese of Charlottetown council of development and peace on Sunday.
Wisam Abou Assali, who came to Canada in September 2016 after fleeing Syria with his family, speaks during a workshop for the diocese of Charlottetown council of development and peace on Sunday. - Katherine Hunt

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Bombs were dropping on schools, and his family members were being kidnapped for ransom.

That’s when Wisam Abou Assali and his family from Syria decided it was time to start a new life somewhere else.

“Damascus, which is the capital city of Syria, is the most ancient city in the world known as Jasmine city, but Jasmine was mixed with blood,” he said. 

Abou Assali told his family’s immigration story during a workshop at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Charlottetown on Sunday.

The Workshop, titled Share the Journey, was organized by the diocese of Charlottetown Council of Development and Peace.

The purpose of the workshop was to educate people about the lives and circumstances of refugees and learn about the causes of forced migration, as well as what Islanders can do to make a positive difference in the lives of refugees.

Rebecca Rathbone, animator for the Atlantic region for the council, said the ultimate goal is to bring people together.

“Getting people to connect and actually hearing their stories and welcoming communities for these people because when you have a welcoming community it often means you’ll have a stronger community,” she said.

“We’re lucky that we came here, but though it’s hard... the culture, the language, everything, we are thankful that Canada opened their doors for us and our children.”
-Wisam Abou Assali

The council organizes a workshop with a different theme every year.

The Share the Journey workshop is an initiative adopted by the council that started in 2017 by Caritas Internationalis, an organization with 160 member countries that works to end poverty and promote justice.

The workshop outlined examples people in the community can do to show their solidarity with refugees.

Walks are taking place all over the world as a symbol of the people who have fled war, persecution, natural disasters, extreme poverty and development megaprojects.

“The national goal is to walk 40,075 kilometres, which is the distance around the circumference of the world,” said Rathbone.

Anyone can organize a walk. The council is aiming to have one after the winter.


Solidarity walks

  • In solidarity with the 68.5 million children, women and men who have been forced to flee their homes, people can help walk 40,075 kilometres, the equivalent of the Earth’s circumference.
  • The initiative is for the council of development and peace, along with Cartas Internationalis. It started in 2017 and goes until Aug. 31, 2019.
  • Visit devp.org/walk to plan a personal walk or a walk with a parish, school or community.

Abou Assali and his family went through a lot of pain before coming to Canada.

His brother-in-law was kidnapped by a group of army men in front of his dentist clinic. The kidnappers demanded a ransom.

His brother-in-law had a 10-month-old daughter at the time. Her first words that year were “Oh Lord” in Arabic.

His father-in-law and their church priest decided to give the captors the ransom money.

The captors arranged for the men to meet them for the exchange. When it was supposed to occur, family called to check in.

“We couldn’t contact them by phone or by cell phone because they were also kidnapped and (the captors) took the money,” said Abou Assali.

Another ransom was demanded, but within a month – tragedy.

“It was awful when we received the worst news that they brutally killed our priest in a very savage way,” he said.

Another meeting for ransom money was arranged. This time, Abou Assali’s brother-in-law and father in-law were returned.

Shortly after, Abou Assali left Syria. The family stayed in Lebanon for six months before coming to Canada in September 2016.

Abou Assali said while it hasn’t been without challenges, he is thankful to be in Canada.

“We’re lucky that we came here, but though it’s hard... the culture, the language, everything, we are thankful that Canada opened their doors for us and our children.”

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