Hasna Swid, a Red Deer resident from Syria, plans to talk to school kids about the Muslim holiday of Ramadan to educate and spread cross-cultural appreciation. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Hasna Swid, a Red Deer resident from Syria, plans to talk to school kids about the Muslim holiday of Ramadan to educate and spread cross-cultural appreciation. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Former Syrian war refugee expresses gratitude to Red Deerians as Ramadan approaches

Hasna Swid plans to share her culture with local students this week

Having lost her 12-year-old brother in the Syrian war, refugee Hasna Swid has found much to be grateful for since arriving in central Alberta.

The month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan that starts on April 2 is a time to express gratitude to God, she said — for, among other things, the peaceful community that has welcomed her.

“It’s a time for charity, to give to the poor and think of others,” said Swid.

This week, the 22-year-old plans to visit her two younger brothers’ classrooms at Annie L. Gaetz School. She will pass out treats and small gifts and educate the young students about Ramadan as a way of sharing her culture and spreading understanding.

“I want the community to get to know their Muslim friends,” said Swid.

She was 18 when she arrived in Alberta with her parents and surviving siblings in January 2018.

Swid remembers never being as cold — yet feeling relief that her family will live in peace. They would no longer have to share a kitchen and bathroom with others — or report their every movement to authorities.

Her large family spent the previous five years in a refugee camp in Turkey, a cramped place, with no personal space, or room for kids to play, recalled Swid.

The thousands of refugees received food and water from humanitarian agencies. Every time anyone needed to go into town, they would need to get special permission, she recalled.

Swid’s family had crossed the border into Turkey to escape from Aleppo, Syria, after her 12-year-old brother, Mohammad, was killed in a bombing. “He was in the market, buying stuff…”

She still doesn’t know who was to blame. The Syrian civil war has drawn forces from Russia, the U.S. and Iran.

“We were looking for his body for three days,” recalled Swid. “As soon as we buried him, we escaped to Turkey.”

Losing her oldest sibling “was very hard,” she recalled — “especially for my parents…”

The family was overwhelmed by the warm welcome they received in Alberta, recalled Swid.

Although more incidents of racism and isolationism are in the news lately, Swid said she only had one negative encounter with an individual.

“We never expected Canadians to be so nice…”

Swid now works in a long-term care home as her younger siblings attend school and her parents study English. She’s proud of her younger sister, Shimaa, who is expected to graduate high school this spring at the age of 16.

Starting on Saturday, the Swid family, like others of the Muslim faith, will fast from sun up to sunset for the entire month of Ramadan. Swid said even water cannot be consumed during this period, which can span 15 hours.

Ramadan occurs in the month Muslims believe the Qur’an began to be revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. The start of the holiday is based on the Islamic calendar and the crescent moon.

Followers refresh their beliefs by reading the Qur’an and reflecting on their spirituality. Swid will think about everything she’s grateful for, and of ways of giving back to the community — especially the less fortunate.

She admitted televised footage of the war in Ukraine has brought back bad memories of the kind of violence she escaped from. “I know what they are going through, and I wish for them to be safe.”

Once Ramadan ends on May 2, Muslims will observe the celebratory three days of Eid, which involves special prayers, food, family visits, and more gift-giving and charity.

Money is given, especially to children, said Swid, so there’s never a need for returns or exchanges.

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