Refugees and advocates share their stories of love

After a tumultuous year, these tales of kindness are sure to warm your heart.

UNHCR Canada
5 min readFeb 8, 2021
© UNHCR/Pablo Villagran

When historians look back on 2020, they will remember a difficult year — from the COVID-19 pandemic to the devastating Beirut explosion and the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. At a time marked by these and other immense challenges, UNHCR maintained our presence on the ground working with our partners to providing life-saving aid to displaced people and support to host communities. While doing so, we also witnessed some incredible moments of kindness and solidarity.

Join us as we reflect on five moments of love shared between refugees and their host communities, friends, strangers, refugee advocates and more.

1) Caring teacher fundraises for families in Ethiopia

© Courtesy of Yohana Weldguirguis

In early November, violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray region led thousands of refugees to leave their homes searching for safety. Since the outbreak of the crisis, a Canadian teacher has been fundraising for those in the region. Yohana’s caring spirit has encouraged her to advocate for those who need it most, having worked for a non-profit in Toronto and teaching English abroad. As she continues to fundraise for those who have fled, including her brother and other family members, Yohana hopes that peace returns to the region so that everyone can enjoy their basic human rights. “They deserve adequate access to food and water to ensure their livelihood,” Yohana explains.

For just $25, you can provide water jugs to a refugee family so that they can access clean drinking water. Shop UNHCR Canada’s Online Gift Shop now!

2) “Ready to help:” Syrian refugees assist vulnerable Swiss amid COVID-19 outbreak

As a retired doctor living alone in Switzerland, Marie-Claude was concerned about trying to minimize her exposure to COVID-19. That’s when the phone rang and her friend Shadi asked how he could help. Shadi, who fled the war in Syria and came to Switzerland in 2013, was eager to find a practical way to help others in the country that gave him safety. He mobilized a group of volunteers, including other Syrians, to help shop and run errands for the elderly, who are at greatest risk in the pandemic. Shadi’s love for his community can’t be understated as he encourages everyone to help.

“If we have in every building one person who can help, it will be remembered decades later,” he says.

3) “I love school so much:” Afghan girl refuses to let her enthusiasm wane

Afghan refugee Besmellah (right) and his wife Halime pose for a photograph with their daughters Parimah (far left), 14, and Parisa, 16, at home in Isfahan, central Iran. © UNHCR/Mohammad Hossein Dehghanian

At 16 years old, Parisa does not take her ability to access education for granted. A decade ago, her family fled Afghanistan to Iran after the Taliban terrorized their neighbourhood and threatened to kidnap any girls who dared to go to school. With funding support from UNHCR and partners to her school in Iran, Parisa was able to have her first experience of a formal education. However, challenges have arisen during the pandemic threaten to derail Parisa’s education once more. “As long as I can work, I will do everything for my daughters to be able to go to school — but it is getting harder,” explains her father, Besmallah, a day labourer who has felt the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the current hardships, Parisa’s passion for learning has not waned. “My sister and I followed our lessons on the television, but we had to borrow my older sister’s smartphone to do our exams,” she says “Sometimes our classes would clash, so one of us would have to miss a lesson. It was difficult, but I encouraged my sister to persevere. Thankfully, we both got good grades.”

Did you know that for just $45 you can give the gift of school essentials to a refugee child? Shop UNHCR Canada’s Online Gift Shop now.

4) From strangers to friends: Canadians sponsor Syrian refugee families

© UNHCR/Chris Young

When images of the crisis in Syria flashed across Canadian bar owner Tyler’s TV screen, he knew he had to help. Since then, he’s helped sponsor two Syrian refugee families for resettlement in Canada. When they first arrived in Toronto’s Pearson Airport the Muslim Hamo family, who had fled Syria into Jordan in 2012, wasn’t sure where to go or what to do.

“Then we met Tyler and his friends,” says Gol Bahar, the matriarch.

Gol Bahar is a married mother of two who resettled in Canada with her husband and two daughters. When she first arrived in Canada, Gol Bahar and Tyler were strangers, meeting for the first time and trying to navigate the tricky language barrier. Two years later, Tyler and the Muslim Hamo family gather often as friends. “Being a sponsor is the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done,” says Tyler, proving that sharing a little kindness with strangers can change your life, and the lives of others who may need it most.

5) The power of love goes beyond borders

© UNHCR/Markel Redondo

No one should be forced to flee their home or fear for their lives for loving who they love. But for many LGBTI refugees, they can be persecuted based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and/or sex characteristics. Maritza, a Honduran refugee, fled her home country after realizing she may be killed for being gay. She fled to Spain in 2008. Now, over a decade later, Martiza has found safety and love as a refugee with her partner Jenny. “I am safe here,” says Maritza.

“I have my business, I have my love. Without love, you can’t live. By myself, I don’t think I could have built this.”

The stories of LGBTI refugees like Maritza remind us that love has the power to bring people together, even when the world around them is being torn apart.

Visit UNHCR Canada’s Online Gift Shop to purchase a gift for a loved one that’ll warm their heart and help a refugee. Gifts start as low as $10. Shop now.

P.S.: Will you be our Valentine? Take our 5-question quiz to find out what kind of refugee advocate you are, and unlock a special Valentine to you, from UNHCR Canada!



UNHCR Canada

The UN Refugee Agency in Canada is dedicated to providing life-saving support to refugees, displaced and stateless people.