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Heroes of HEFC - Diye and Basel

by Lynn Sherwood

All summer, four days a week, while other boys their age were playing computer games and going to the cottage, Diye Temo, aged 14, and Basel Ouwer, aged 15 worked to ensure the smooth flow of services to hungry families at HEFC. They voluntarily and enthusiastically swept floors, set up chairs, bagged food, lugged boxes and crates and translated from Arabic to English for our Executive Co ordinator, Louisa Simms. Diya and Basel are our Heroes of Heron Emergency Food Centre for October.

On the sunny September afternoon when they met with me to talk about their volunteer work, they both shyly described how much they want to help people, and how much they are committed to making the world a better place. They proudly told me that Louisa tells them they are good workers and that they are helping out a lot. In particular they explained that they try to comfort crying or frightened children by giving them pieces of candy or something to occupy themselves while their parents are waiting their turn for groceries.

Diye and Basel are in the way of understanding how to comfort frightened children. They are both refugees from Syria.

Diya explained that he, his parents, and two younger sisters, were on the first refugee plane to Canada from Syria in 2016 and were met by the Prime Minister upon arrival. His family fled from Syria to Turkey in 2014 after one of his cousins, aged 16, was killed by a stray bullet while travelling by car in Syria. He told me that he began volunteering at HEFC with his father who was taking an ESL class and was recruited by Louisa to help with deliveries. His father now cannot help as much, because not only did he injure his arm in a workplace accident, requiring surgery, but he has also injured his knee and has trouble walking. Diye clearly worries about his father, who lives with daily pain, but says he really likes the job he is doing to help out at HEFC. Diye is attending Featherstone School, and wants to become an electrical engineer.

Basel, the oldest of 5 children, told me that he was on the second plane from Syria and he also met the Prime Minister upon arrival. He talked about being given warm boots and a parka to wear when he arrived, as well as about moving from Toronto to Winnipeg and later embarking on a sixteen-hour bus ride to Alberta, before finally settling in Ottawa. Basel and his family are seasoned travelers, having initially fled from Syria to Jordan where they lived for four years . He said Jordan was a difficult place to live; people were unkind and yelled at them to “go back to Syria”. Canada, he says, is a safe country where he does not need to be afraid anymore, and where people treat him well.

Basel came with his father to get needed groceries from HEFC upon arrival in Ottawa, and when he saw that people were helping out, he immediately decided that he wanted to help also and asked Louisa if he could do that.

In addition to his four days a week at HEFC he worked this past summer at Burger King. He is now studying at Ottawa Technical Secondary School to be a mechanic. He emphasized how glad he is to be here in Ottawa, he thinks that Canada is a good place, the safest place in the world, and told me he would be getting his Canadian citizenship on September 17. Welcome to your new home Basel!

Diye and Basel spoke hesitantly, almost reluctantly, about the chaos they have left behind, and how they worry about family and friends who are still trapped in Syria. Both said that their families send as much money as they can spare back home. I found myself reflecting on the cruelty and violence which seems so far away to us here in our secure affluence, but which has robbed these young men of their childhoods and taught them painful lessons about life and human evil far too soon. Attempting to explain some of the reasons for the trauma these young men have experienced in their homeland, as well as to assure them that they will not encounter it here, we talked about the work of building a society where there is still enough space for everyone, where teenagers are not randomly killed by stray bullets, where people are not forced to abandon their homes, and where all are welcome.

This work begins, of course, with feeding people, the Mission of HEFC. In that context we are also privileged to be able to provide a means for folks like Diye, Basel and their families to find a new home, build a new life, and in their turn help others in need.

Members of the Board of HEFC are happy to attend your events or fundraiser to talk about the service we, all together, provide for our community. We even have a PowerPoint presentation ready to go! Call us at 613 737-9090 or e-mail us at for more information.

Heron Emergency Food Centre is located at 1480 Heron Road and is open 4 days a week to provide emergency food to people in need in Ottawa South.

Check out our Facebook page at Heron Emergency Food Centre @hefcottawa


We welcome cash and food donations including soup, chickpeas, kidney beans, canned vegetables and pasta sauce as well as seasonal produce from your garden.

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