Nina Moshy, left, and Rosemary Yachouh stand in front of the Ryerson Student Centre to spread awareness about the plight of Syrian refugees. Photo by Jean Ko Din

Assyrian students in solidarity with homelands

  • November 19, 2015

TORONTO - Many members of the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac Student Union (ACSSU) have grown up in Canada watching from a distance as civil wars tear apart their homelands and force their relatives and friends to flee. As tensions rise and more people are displaced, ACSSU members believe they can make a difference.

From Nov. 16 to 19, ACSSU chapters at Toronto’s Ryerson and York Universities and the University of Toronto, McMaster in Hamilton, Ont., and Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., set up camp in front of their school’s student centres to raise awareness and money in support of refugees in Iraq and Syria. For three nights and four days, ACCSU members are experiencing the “Life of a Mesopotamian Refugee.”

“We’re here to raise awareness and money for people who are not here,” said Rosemary Yachouh, president of ACSSU Canada. “I’m just hoping to get the word out... I want to make myself feel what people back home are feeling for the extent that I’m able to.”

About 12 students slept in tents for three nights without electronics and other conveniences. The students only ate food brought to them by others.

During the day, students handed out flyers and talked with passers-by about the plight of displaced peoples in former Mesopotamia (Iraq and Syria). They also visited classrooms to talk to different student groups about donating money to send much needed food, shelter and clothing overseas. ACSSU hopes to raise at least $25,000 for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).

Generally, Yachouh said people have been open to being engaged in conversation. Students want to know more about what’s going on
in the world. Many have passed by their tables and tents to share their thoughts and feelings about the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut.

“We’re not just about raising money. We want to also get people’s time. We want to tell them what’s happening,” said Yachouh. “So by having a physical presence and actually giving ourselves that experience of living like refugees, I think it shows the Canadian community that there is a bigger thing happening outside of this country.”

ACSSU has organized similar sit-in events at McMaster in past years, but this is the first time the event is also being held at other campuses. Nina Moshy is prseident of ACSSU Ryerson chapter. It was her idea to bring the sit-in to the downtown campus.

“(People) are very shocked and proud because it’s like ‘wow, you guys are actually doing this,’ ” said Moshy. “We tell them that we take away their electronics, except for when they leave for their classes... Now it’s all technology and you don’t appreciate what your ancestors have gone through.”

Yachouh said that these events are important to the student members because it gives them an outlet to respond to the news that they hear everyday. In fact, ACSSU has seen an influx of new members just this year, including a new chapter at the University of Toronto.

“I think with what’s happening back home... I think that the youth are now realizing that their culture is basically dying out in Iraq and Syria and they want to do something about it,” said Yachouh. “Being involved in ACSSU we definitely give people that outlet. I think people are just trying to get in touch with their roots again.”

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