A Helping Hand
"The whole world is watching, but no one will say anything"
Sam Nammoura spends much of his free time helping Syrian Refugees for no compensation, out of the kindness of his heart.
Sam Nammoura. The unexpected kindness of one man can have a huge impact.
Nammoura discusses why he feels that it is important to lend a helping hand to those who are fleeing the conflict in Syria.
“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” A famously uttered sentiment, and one repeated by Sam Nammoura.
Yet Nammoura doesn’t see a statistic. He sees a million of his countrymen and women fleeing injustice, fleeing a life of fear and the threat of death.
Nammoura sees a million opportunities to help.
Born in Damascus, Syria, Nammoura immigrated to Canada in 1997. He is 52 years old.
He said “the longing for freedom” influenced his decision to leave his home. “Over there you have zero chance of doing things that you like to do. They dictate everything. I want to live my own life, I want tolive my own dreams.”
The “they” that Nammoura is referencing is the Assad regime. Bashar al-Assad’s family has been in power since the 1970s.
When Nammoura made the decision to leave Syria he had to do so in secret. Because he was employed by the government as an engineer and had obtained a bachelor degree in electronics from the University of Damascus he was considered an asset to the country. Nammoura made “a few attempts to resign, they said no, and I managed to escape and ran away.”
Nammoura left Syria in 1992, under the pretence that he was visiting the States short-term. He flew into the Chicago, Illinois as a visitor, but quickly contacted the U.S. embassy and applied for political asylum, which he was granted. He lived in Chicago for 5 years until he made the decision to head to Canada. He landed in Calgary in 1997, “and I have been a proud Canadian ever since,” said Nammoura.
He made the journey alone, leaving behind 12 brothers and sisters, and all of his extended family.
The conditions that caused Nammoura to flee were tumultuous. Throughout the 70s and 80s, the Assad regime was dealing with a war with Israel, and a Muslim Brotherhood uprising. “Assad ruled the country with an iron fist,” said Nammoura. “All my so-called friends with higher education were all disappeared. They were all gone. Anybody with any slight differences with the regime were gone and disappeared. There was like literally zero freedom of speech, zero tolerance with any—to say whatever is on your mind. It was like a big prison.”
Nammoura knows that many of the refugees face a much more difficult transition than he had during their move to Canada.
Nammoura said that he was thrilled to be in Canada. “It was such a great feeling to feel like ‘oh my God, I’m in Canada. I’m safe. I chose a country.’ This is like a country by choice, it’s not like I was born into it. And that’s why I feel like I’m privileged, because I choose to be Canadian,” he said. “I choose to move from one continent, from one culture, from one space into another domain. Completely different, and so overwhelming and so humane.”
The business-friendly climate and wealth of opportunity is what originally brought Nammoura to Alberta. After settling in Calgary, Nammoura started his own business, which he sold in 2001. He immediately started another business installing and servicing security systems, Armax Security, which he currently owns.
Many of those who have escaped the oppressive Assad regime still live with so much fear in their hearts.
Nammoura isn’t affiliated with any specific group in Calgary, he says. “Whatever help is needed, I’m there. I work with the United Church, I work with the Islamic community, I work with the Syrian Women Club, I work with the Mennonite’s committees here in Calgary. Media stuff. It doesn’t really matter. For me it’s just about the cause that I really do believe in.”
Nammoura says he knows of at least 30 refugees who plan to come to Calgary, but he expects a lot more to follow. He is worried that it may not be enough for individuals like him who are stepping up to help. “This is a human issue, this is a country’s issue, this is not individual stuff. So really we need organizations, associations, communities, and government to come together, and there’s a lot, but everybody is working individually and separately. I’m just trying to be that connection between so many groups.”
Nammoura got involved helping refugees shortly after the image of the Syrian boy’s body washed up on the Turkish beach circulated through the media. “We had a rally in front of the city hall. And I went there and I was maybe one of 80 or 100 that were there. And this is where everything started. I was outspoken and people started to pass numbers and emails and stuff and this is how I got involved from one place to another.”
Although he hasn’t been involved for a long time, Nammoura has already helped three Syrian refugee families get settled in their new homes. He helps refugee families in a wide variety of ways. “What I do is, I would say, everything that they need. Give them a ride, to translate or interpret something for them, buy them things if they need—not from my own pocket, from the people—if they need anything,” Nammoura said. “A lot of them don’t even know how to shop. So you have to take them to the shop, how to manage, how to run the place… Whatever the transition is the first month or two or three until they feel like they can move on on their own.”
Nammoura believes that having a common space, and making a central place for refugees to turn for help will aid in their transitions as they land and attempt to settle in a place so vastly different from the homes that they left.
Nammoura is just one among many trying to help, and the problem is bigger than just one person, he said.“I could not understand why the whole world is watching. Why all of a sudden Syrian is not important? Why is a dictator killing hundreds of thousands?" Nammoura said that he realizes that there are a lot of reasons that people might not be paying attention, but he can't understand the lack of outrage he sees when the evidence of the horror facing the Syrian people is all over the internet.
"And now, when you see millions of refugees feeling, reaching the shores of Europe and people start to go ‘hold on, what’s going on there?’ It’s been going on for four-and-a-half-years," he said.
“Once I read, killing one person is a crime, but killing a million is statistics. And that’s what happened… Over time it’s ‘oh yeah, so, 150 dead today, 200 today, 350 today.’ It’s just numbers, right? And that’s what’s so
Nammoura believes that it's important to speak out about this issue because it will break the cycle of fear that keeps so many silent.
sad. We forget these are humans, these are dreams, these are future scientists, future teachers, future mothers. It’s just numbers. That’s so sad… I don’t understand why the world is so silent.”
For now, Nammoura is doing what is within his reach. “Whatever I can do, I’m doing it and if I can’t I’ll say I can’t.”