"Me and my wife, this is our heart"

Surrey's Middle Eastern Friendship Centre opens its doors and hearts to new immigrants

Adel and Layla Masoud with some donated items at the Middle Eastern Friendship Centre in North Surrey

Walking amongst hundreds of boxes filled with clothes, Adel Masoud holds up a recently donated shirt, gives it a close look and then puts it to the side, acknowledging a lack quality.

“We just keep the super-clean clothes,” he says as he continues to sort through all the donated items.

As president of the Middle Eastern Friendship Centre (MEFC), located at 13483 108 Ave., Masoud has been helping refugees settle in the Surrey area for the last three years.

With the influx of Syrian refugees expected to come to Surrey in the coming weeks, Masoud, his wife Layla, their children, and a handful of volunteers have been busily sorting through donated goods in preparation.

The federal government has committed to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, with most arriving by the end of February.

So far B.C., has welcomed mainly privately sponsored refugees – about 200 dispersed across 13 cities by the end of December.

The province also anticipates receiving up to 3,500 government-assisted Syrian refugees over the longer term, with about one-third expected to settle in Surrey.

As with all new immigrants who come to the friendship centre, each family will be registered so the Masouds know the specific needs and numbers that need help.

Newcomers will be given clothes, some food, toiletries and even toys and small appliances. Some things they can choose themselves and some come as a basket of goods.

The MEFC even has volunteers with cars to help deliver the donations.

Masoud knows all too well the difficulties new immigrants face when they first arrive in Canada.

“It’s very hard for them to come here and deal with new weather, new language,” he says. “I go through all these things when I came to Canada. This is why we opened the centre.”

For Masoud, his wife and three children, arriving in Winnipeg from Kuwait following the Gulf War in 1997 in the middle of winter was “like walking into a freezer.”

“We didn’t know any English, we didn’t know anything about the bus schedules or how to build up credit. I felt lost,” he says, apologizing for his thick accent.

After moving to Surrey, he started his own business and decided to help others transition to life in Canada – offering the helping hand he did not receive.

The MEFC provides English classes, an Arabic library and even classes where people can learn about new customs and cultures. And there are family lunches every Saturday.

With so many obstacles to overcome, Masoud has witnessed countless families crumble once they arrive.

“Many houses are broken; you need to show them the way,” he says.

Although the centre is open to all faiths, one Muslim family comes every day to volunteer and every day, they cry with gratitude, he says.

Before they arrived, Masoud says, they had different expectations when it came to living in a largely Christian country.

They tell me, “this is not what they taught us at home. They welcome us, they love us and we have nothing to give them,” he says. “And I tell them ‘they just want you to have a happy life with your family. This is why they did this for you’.

“When I see the people do things the right way and start their life here in a good way with no mistakes, I feel so happy. Me and my wife, this is our heart.”

If you would like to donate to the centre or learn more, go to mefriendshipcentre.com

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