Benefit concert at church helps refugees find a home

Syrian refugee Mohamed al Chebli shares his story on migration and integration

When Mohamed al Chebli fled Syria he left something precious behind.

“I left my mom, dad (and my) sister,” he said. “Then in Lebanon I had to leave my other sisters.”

Al Chebli had no choice. The civil war in Syria meant he had to look out for his children first. Then, after living in a tent in Lebanon for three years, he learned that the Canadian government was allowing him to immigrate.

“In Canada, I’m very lucky,” al Chebli said. “I can’t go back to Syria or Lebanon, but I have to look out for my kids.”

It was been three months since this family migrated to Canada through government sponsorship. Before coming to Canada, they lived in a refugee camp tent for three years.
It was been three months since this family migrated to Canada through government sponsorship. Before coming to Canada, they lived in a refugee camp tent for three years.

But once landed, even living in Toronto has been hard for al Chebli. He lives in a one-room apartment with his family. The money he saves barely pays for rent, let alone food. His main worry now is maintaining what he has.

That’s where local resettlement groups have entered the picture. On Saturday, four charity organizations in East York hosted a charity concert to raise money for refugees from the Middle East.

At the concert, hundreds gathered. Children danced. All ears tuned to the Mediterranean jazz being played. Those present included Syrian refugees who had emigrated from across the Middle East.

From left to right: Mohamad al Chebli, Younes al Chebli, Chebli al Chebli, Khadeja al Chebli, Amal al Chebli.
From left to right: Mohamad al Chebli, Younes al Chebli, Chebli al Chebli, Khadeja al Chebli, Amal al Chebli. (Sadiah Rahman)

Al Chebli brought his family to the concert. It was a chance to meet people who have experienced some of the same traumatic events he has.

“I meet new families from Syria,” he said.

Sounds from a guitar paired with hand-drums and topped with vocals, had people dancing and running to the stage to snap photos of the jazz group. People sang along to songs about Syria and about freedom.

“(It) reminded me of my home. That made me sad and miss my hometown,” al Chebli said, “but still it was good.”

The jazz group, SUSYANCA, consisted of multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Waleed Abdulhamid, singer Nawras Nader and percussionist Naghmeh Farahmand. All members left their home nations Sudan, Syria and Iran after years of war. Indeed, the band’s name is an acronym melding their various origins – Sudan, Syria, Iran and Canada. On Saturday, they played to migrants who’d also left their nations because of war.

concert4
A standing ovation for the Mediterranean jazz group. (Sadiah Rahman)
Concert3
Jazz group SUSYANCA filled the whole room with sounds of hand-drums, guitars and soft vocals. (Sadiah Rahman)

Jane Will organized the concert at the Eastminster United Church. Organizers chose SUSYANCA for a reason.

“They are a real mixed group who come from different parts of the Middle East and they don’t speak the same language,” she said. “That they play together is such a wonderful commonality.”

“It was different from other performances, because of the beautiful concept,” percussionist and vocalist Naghmeh Farahmand said. “This performance was without any ego. It was dedicated to the venue.”

Despite the respite al Chebli experienced with the concert in East York, he remains very focused on the situation in the Middle East.

“I thought I could bring my mom and dad (out of Syria too), but it’s not that easy. I need someone to give them money and protect them,” he said. “Because of the war, they have no money or any food. They are old. … The past three years have been hard.”

concert_musicicians
From left to right: singer Nawras Nader, percussionist Naghmeh Farahmand and multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Waleed Abdulhamid stand for a cheering crowd after a successful performance. (Sadiah Rahman)