New Canadian Media
Tuesday, 10 April 2018 20:15

White Helmets in Vancouver

By: Deanna Cheng in Vancouver, BC

Sniffles came from the crowd. Even the children present knew to remain quiet.

Syrian journalist Maisoun Almasri said she saw her younger brother get shot by a Syrian government sniper. That sniper prevented anyone from trying to rescue the little boy.

Through a translator, Almasri said no one had any experience doing first aid.

“So my brother lost his life in our arms. We can’t do anything. Looking at me, looking at our mother, all those surrounding him, and we can’t do anything. I was haunted by the look in his eyes.”

She said that look haunted her every night. “The feeling of helplessness will kill you. The guilt of doing nothing will kill you.”

Almasri joined the White Helmets after that moment in 2013.

“The feeling of helplessness will kill you. The guilt of doing nothing will kill you.”-Maisoun Almasri

She uses that first memory as a reminder of what it means to be part of the organization and to prevent it from happening again.

In total, she has lost two younger brothers.

Three White Helmets volunteers shared personal stories of their lives in Syria, through Mohammed Alsaleh and two other translators, to a packed hall at Simon Fraser University. Those three volunteers wished for Vancouver residents to understand the daily tragedies happening abroad, to have a better understanding of what the organization is about, and to pressure the Canadian government into helping them build a democracy similar to the one Canadians enjoy.

Syria Civil Defense

White Helmets, known officially as the Syria Civil Defense, is a formal emergency response team of civilian volunteers and an apolitical organization. Its four principles are humanity, objectivity, neutrality and independence.

Almasri said 112,000 lives have been saved by the White Helmets.

Nedal Izdden, one of its board members, said, “We are the only non-armed group doing this kind of work in Syria.”

He adds that 233 volunteers have lost their lives from this war.

By doing this humanitarian work of easing people’s suffering, Izdden said, the volunteers are sending a clear message that violence can only produce violence.

“We strive for stability in the area.”

The ultimate goal is peace, he said. Rebuild the cities and the country.

“We are the only ones praying to lose our jobs,” he joked.

In contrast to the quiet sounds of a little toddler burbling on her father’s lap in the room, Mustafa Almahamed talked about his 10-year-old nephew dying in his arms on December 15, 2012.

Turning to Almasri on the panel, he said, “That look haunted me too.”

Today, Almahamed is the Syria Civil Defense manager for Daraa, a city in southwestern Syria. He continues to face the results of cluster and barrel bombs.

In the last year and a half, the organization started helping people find places to hide when the bombs hit.

Breaking down Gender Barriers

Almasri shared what women have contributed to the cause.

When White Helmets was first established, she said, there were no more than 10 women.

Now there are over 400 female volunteers and more than 45 women centers.

“We provide the same service as men. This includes carrying people to the ambulances and search and rescue.”

The difference they have made are noted in certain conservative groups where women were uncomfortable being helped by men.

Almasri said gender was a barrier. “Women were able to fill the gap and provide support.”

The women centers provide first aid training, search and rescue efforts and trauma support for children, she said. Outreach programs have volunteers doing demonstrations at schools and in people’s homes.

The goal is one rescuer in each home.

“In six months, we have closed more than 30,000 cases,” Almasri said.

Currently, the organization is training women on how to work with unexploded devices and identify non-traditional weapons such as barrel bombs.

Remaining Apolitical

When asked how White Helmets remain apolitical and how to ensure it remains that way, Izdden said, “We all know countries have a humanitarian side to them and it is the side we are talking to.”

He said the organization is lucky to be recognized by countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands.

In response to the second part of the question, Izdden said the 4,000 White Helmets are not angels.

“We are everyday people. Our work, like schools and institutions, is dedicated to a code of ethics and a code of conduct.”

He said when they recognize a member who isn’t committed to the organization’s four principles or to its code of ethics and conduct, they simply stop their association with the person and he or she is no longer a member.

Reasons for expulsion include using a gun or an affiliation with a political group.

“Mistakes do happen,” Izdden said. “We do our best to address them when they happen.”

Almasri still reports on life within Syria, issues such as safety and socio-economic affairs, in between her duties as the head staff of women’s affairs. She plans to commit fully to journalism after the White Helmets are not needed anymore.

Same as Izddan with dentistry. Same as Almahamed with auto mechanics.

The event was co-hosted by SFU International, PeaceGeeks and the British Consulate-General Vancouver. The three Syrians visited Ottawa with the assistance of Global Affairs Canada before coming to Vancouver.


Deanna Cheng is a member of the NCM Collective based out of Vancouver.

Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 18 January 2018 21:00

Faith a Big Factor in Giving by New Canadians

By: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver, BC

New Canadians from South Asia, China and the Philippines are more likely to donate to charitable causes than the general population, a new survey has found.

The survey by the Angus Reid Institute and CHIMP or the Charitable Impact Foundation, found this segment of Canadians – many of whom are motivated to give by their personal religious faith – are more likely to donate to charitable causes than the general population, and more likely to say that they should be doing even more than they already are.

The key findings stated:

• From poverty reduction, to faith-based issues, to human rights, people born outside Canada are more likely to have donated to each of the 11 charitable areas canvassed in this survey;

• While three-in-ten respondents from the general population (30%) say they should be “doing more” to contribute to charitable causes, this sentiment increases to four-in-ten (41%) among those born outside Canada

• Seven-in-ten immigrants surveyed (71%) say their religious beliefs have a strong influence on their giving habits, while fewer than half of the general population say this (46%)

• Money sent to family overseas is a significant source of giving for immigrants – one-in-four (27%) are currently sending money in this way

The survey sample was primarily drawn from individuals who were born in the top three emigrating nations – China, India, and the Philippines – though a handful of respondents say they were born in another country outside of Canada.

In addition to the sample of 439 residents born outside the country, this survey also captured a large group of second-generation Canadians.

“With the percentage of Canada’s population who are immigrants expected to grow in coming years, this segment becomes more important to the Canadian story with each passing year,” said Shachi Kurl, the executive director of the Angus Reid Foundation.

The survey authors said in their report that Canadians as a whole population can be divided into four groups in terms of their charitable behaviour: The Non-Donors, The Casual Donors, The Prompted Donors, and The Super Donors.

The Non-Donors (14% of the general population) are just that: People for whom donating money is simply not something they do. At most, members of this group donate less than $100 dollars and support just one charitable cause in a typical year. The vast majority of this group is even less charitably active.

Slightly more active in their charitable activities are the Casual Donors (31%). Members of this group spread their money around, with most donating to at least two different charities each year, but none of them report donating more than $250 annually.

The other two groups – the Prompted Donors (34%) and the Super Donors (21%) – are each significantly more likely than Casual and Non-Donors to support a variety of charities and to spend more than $250 per year.

Those born outside Canada are much more likely to fall into the Super Donor category. More than one-in-three (36%) may be considered members of the most generous segment of the population, compared to one-in-five (21%) within the overall population, said Kurl.

Across each of the 11 donation areas canvassed in this survey, those born outside of Canada are more likely than the general population to have volunteered or donated to all of them, with the exception of animal welfare causes.

Notably, second-generation Canadians as likely as immigrants to volunteer or donate in many charitable areas. This means that they are also much more likely than the general population to be involved. There is however, a large disparity between first and second generation Canadians in two areas – religious causes and involvement in their own ethnic community.

The role of personal faith is evident among Canadians born overseas. While just three-in-ten (31%) among the total population say they are involved with a religious or faith-based cause, this number jumps to six-in-ten (61%) among immigrants and four-in-ten (43%) among second-generation Canadians.

When looking at the impetus to give, faith is again a factor. Seven-in-ten immigrants to Canada (71%) say their own personal faith has a strong influence on their views of charitable activities. Just under half (46%) of the general population says this. Second-generation Canadians fall in between these two groups (55%):

One-in-four immigrants (27%), are also currently sending money to family overseas in the form of remittances. This represents double the number of second-generation Canadians who say the same (13%), while just a handful of general population Canadians say they are currently remitting.

The group remitting in the greatest numbers, by a large margin, are Filipino immigrants. Among this group, 43 per cent say they are sending money back overseas currently, while those from South Asia (25%) and China (15%) report doing so at a much lower rate.

New Canadians also ranked higher in the “should be doing more to support charitable causes” segment when compared to the general population.


Jagdeesh Mann is a media professional and journalist based in Vancouver. Mann is also a member of the NCM Collective and regular contributor for New Canadian Media. This piece was republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.

Published in Top Stories

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