Having lost her 12-year-old brother during the war in Syria, refugee Hasna Swid has found much to be grateful for since arriving in central Alberta.
The month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which begins on April 2, is a time to express gratitude to God, she said, for, among other things, the peaceful community that welcomed her.
“It’s a time for charity, for giving to the poor and thinking of others,” Swid said.
This week, the 22-year-old plans to visit the classrooms of her two younger brothers at Annie L. Gaetz School. She will hand out sweets and small gifts and educate young students about Ramadan as a way to share culture and spread understanding.
“I want the community to get to know their Muslim friends,” Swid said.
She was 18 when she arrived in Alberta with her parents and surviving siblings in January 2018.
Swid remembers never being so cold, but relieved that her family could live in peace. They would no longer have to share a kitchen and bathroom with others – or report their every move to the authorities.
Her large family had spent the previous five years in a refugee camp in Turkey, a cramped place with no personal space or space for children to play, Swid recalls.
Thousands of refugees received food and water from aid agencies. Every time someone had to go into town, they had to get special permission, she recalls.
Swid’s family had crossed the border into Turkey to escape from Aleppo, Syria, after his 12-year-old brother, Mohammad, was killed in a bomb attack. “He was at the market, buying stuff…”
She still doesn’t know who was to blame. The Syrian civil war has drawn forces from Russia, the United States and Iran.
“We searched for his body for three days,” Swid recalls. “As soon as we buried him, we fled to Turkey.”
Losing her older brother “was very difficult”, she recalls – “especially for my parents…”
The family was overwhelmed by the warm welcome they received in Alberta, recalls Swid.
Although more and more incidents of racism and isolationism have been making headlines lately, Swid said she had only one negative encounter with an individual.
“We didn’t expect Canadians to be so nice…”
Swid now works in a long-term care home while her younger siblings go to school and her parents study English. She is proud of her younger sister, Shimaa, who is expected to graduate from high school this spring at the age of 16.
Starting Saturday, the Swid family, like others of the Muslim faith, will fast from sun to sun for the entire month of Ramadan. Swid said even water cannot be consumed during this period, which can last 15 hours.
Ramadan is the month when Muslims believe the Quran began to be revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The start of the holidays is based on the Islamic calendar and the crescent moon.
Followers refresh their beliefs by reading the Quran and reflecting on their spirituality. Swid will reflect on all that she is grateful for and ways to give back to the community, especially those less fortunate.
She admitted TV footage from the war in Ukraine brought back bad memories of the kind of violence she escaped. “I know what they are going through and I want them to be safe.”
Once Ramadan ends on May 2, Muslims will observe the three-day celebration of Eid, which involves special prayers, food, family visits and more gifts and charity.
The money is donated, especially to children, Swid said, so there’s never a need for returns or exchanges.
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