When My Family Had to Self-Quarantine, the Syrian Refugees We Once Sponsored Had Our Backs

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, a family of Syrian refugees we once sponsored showed us kindness and care.

In 2016, I was part of a group that sponsored a family of Syrian refugees. Marwa Ataya and her husband, Salem Ajaj (above), had fled their home country with three young kids in tow. They eventually settled in our hometown of Victoria.

That year, we drove them to doctor’s appointments and helped them find housing, furnish their home and enroll their children in school. We watched proudly as they flourished: their eldest kids started school, and Marwa and her husband opened a grocery store. Over the next few years, we developed a friendship, getting together to celebrate our kids’ birthdays and stopping to chat whenever we shopped at their store.

In March 2020, my family and I travelled to Mexico. When we left Canada, North Americans still weren’t incredibly worried about COVID-19. But the situation changed quickly. We were still abroad when the Canadian Government’s recommendation against travel was released. Upon returning to Victoria, we decided to self-isolate, just to be safe. That meant not leaving the house for 14 days—not even to stock up on groceries.

Partway through our self-quarantine I got a text from Marwa saying she was standing outside our house.

I opened the door to seven big bags of groceries sitting on our porch. Marwa was standing on the sidewalk a safe distance away. She’d brought my family a bunch of staples—meat, sugar, cheese, a big bag of flour—as well middle eastern food like moussaka and some candy for my kid.

I was so moved. I knew she and her husband were working, running a business and taking care of three small kids at home. That they took the time to care for us was incredibly kind. I would have liked to give her a hug, but of course I couldn’t.

Later, I learned she’d also dropped off groceries for my parents. Given that they’re in their 80s, this was a huge relief. I had been feeling bad that I wasn’t able to do some shopping for them while we isolated. I insisted several times over text that I wanted to pay Marwa back. She wouldn’t have any of it. She just sent me a bunch of shrugging emojis.

I have both fears and hopes about how our world will be changed by COVID-19. I worry that we’ll see an increase in xenophobia, and the tightening of our borders.

But it might also serve as a reminder of how important global connections are. I hope that people will remember how much refugees do for the communities in which they resettle. Canada is a kinder and richer country because of the contributions of newcomers. When this pandemic ends there will be a list of refugees hoping to come to Canada. I hope Canadians will step up and help those people get to safety.

For the time being, I’m bolstered by the support I’ve witnessed in my own community. I’ve seen people online asking for deliveries of essential items like diapers, and watched as others rushed to volunteer to make the drop-offs. The silver lining has been seeing this kind of help and mutual aid.

Have you been touched by an act of kindness during the lockdown? Show your gratitude by nominating someone for a Reader’s Digest Kindness Award.