After getting a safe place to resume their lives, Syrian refugees in Winnipeg are giving back this summer — starting with the gift of life.

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This article was published 11/7/2016 (1971 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After getting a safe place to resume their lives, Syrian refugees in Winnipeg are giving back this summer — starting with the gift of life.

Two dozen resettled newcomers went to Canadian Blood Services Monday evening to donate blood.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Karwan Kahil relaxes while donating blood for the first time in Canada. His first donation was in Syria to help his father through open heart surgery.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Karwan Kahil relaxes while donating blood for the first time in Canada. His first donation was in Syria to help his father through open heart surgery.

"It's to give something back to the community," said Nour Ali, one of the first Syrian refugees to arrive in Winnipeg more than three years ago. "All Manitobans and Canadians helped us," he said. "We wanted to say 'Thank you, Canada, for helping us.'" Ali works full time for a restoration company and volunteers with his wife speaking to groups about refugees and helping them get resettled. He's met with Syrians lately to talk about how they could give something back to the community. Not everyone speaks English yet or can afford much but one thing they do have to share — and are used to sharing — is their blood, he said.

"In Syria, there were so many injuries with bombing everywhere," said Ali. "Donating blood became part of the Syrian culture." Ali said he donated three dozen times before leaving Syria. "Some people are donating every month. People need blood." Ali heard that Canadian Blood Services needs donors and discussed it with his community that got on board with the plan to donate blood. For the resettled Syrians, giving blood would mean a lot more than just an anonymous donation of plasma, cells and platelets, said Ali.

"We've been part of this country. Let's mix our blood with Canadian blood and be a part of this new country, this new society."

Volunteer cleanup planned

Another idea they came up with is a massive one-day cleanup of downtown Winnipeg — an area that's home to many resettled. It's something they can do and something they appreciate being able to do, said Ali.

"Because of the war, garbage was everywhere and we couldn't do anything because they were attacking the area," he said. Now they're living someplace safe where they can pick up trash and tidy without worrying about being hit by a sniper or a barrel bomb. More than 100 adults and children are taking part in the cleanup, he said. They want people to know they care about their new home, Winnipeg, and want it to look its best.

"When you're cleaning your city, it's like cleaning your home," said Ali.

Other plans on their thank-you Canada to-do list this summer include volunteering at Siloam Mission and hosting a big, day-long Syrian-style barbecue for the public. "Everyone is welcome." They're still working on the details for the downtown clean up and barbecue, said Ali.

"They will love to do something," said the ethnic Kurd who grew up near the border of Turkey and Iraq in Syria before moving to the capital Damascus, where he lived for many years. He appreciates Canada's warm welcome and is grateful to Douglas Mennonite Church members who sponsored him and his wife through the Mennonite Central Committee.

"One big thing that changed me was the love — the warm heart they gave me," said Ali. "I asked them 'How can I give back?' They said 'We don't give it back — we pass it to the next people. Try to help other people.'"

Canadian Blood Services says it can take up to 50 blood donors to help someone who has been in a car crash and five donors for a person who has had heart surgery or a cancer treatment. For the Syrians, becoming a donor is an opportunity be part of the lifeblood of Canada.

"We can all work together to make this country the greatest country in the world," said Ali.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.