This holiday season, Abdul Jalab wants to give back to the community that welcomed him with open arms.
A Syrian refugee who moved to Halifax at the end of January, Jalab says he was immediately struck by the kindness of the people around him as soon as he got off the plane.
“The first moment I arrived to the airport, I was like, ‘Wow, this feels like home,'” said the 31-year-old. “People are super nice. I just felt very overwhelmed. … I never felt like this for the last 10 years.”
Jalab, who was once targeted by the Syrian government for trying to help protesters injured in armed conflict, fled to South Korea in 2012, but said he “felt like an outsider” there. That wasn’t the case when he came to Nova Scotia.
“I was surrounded by lots of good people, and I really felt welcome,” he said.
When the coronavirus arrived in Halifax a few months later, Jalab had a work schedule that gave him three to four days off each week. That’s when he got the idea to spend that time running errands for people who weren’t able to do so.
“I need to do something, I need to give back,” said Jalab. “I have the power, I have my car, I have the time to do it, so why not?”
Fun ‘to get out and see people’
Back in April, he made a post on Facebook offering to get groceries for people who were vulnerable, self-isolating or otherwise couldn’t make it to the store. Shortly after, requests started to come in through a Google form he made.
Jalab’s project keeps him fairly busy, and he normally has an order or two to take care of on his days off.
But along with the grocery requests came offers for help. While Jalab still does most of the errands himself, there’s now a roster of five to six people who fill in for him when he’s unavailable.
“It is just so much fun to get out and see people,” he said.
Other than the cost of whatever he’s picking up, the service is free, although Jalab has taken payment in the form of home-cooked meals.
“Sometimes people, they give you a lunchbox or something, and I think that’s really cool, so you will be able to taste Canadian cuisine … from people’s kitchen, and it’s made with love,” he said.
Carol Osmond, 75, is a big fan of Jalab’s work. He’s been picking up items for her for the past few months on a weekly basis.
“He’s always very thoughtful and very respectful,” she said. “Whenever I give him a call, he’ll come. He’s very good like that.”
‘We can beat this thing together’
Over the past few months, Jalab has also been working on another project. He and a few friends started working on a program called Smile in a Box, where they collect donated items to give to children in need for the holidays. He said they made about 100 boxes this year.
Jalab, who recently started a business and is applying to university to continue his studies in software engineering, is grateful for the opportunities he’s had in Nova Scotia. He said he wanted to give back by helping in any way he could during a time of crisis.
“I just wanted to thank everybody for being so supportive and so welcoming,” he said.
“We can beat this thing together, and we will always be here for the community and for Nova Scotians, for my adopted country, Canada. I am so proud I am here.”
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