Bidour Al-Rawi stands at the front of over 25 refugee kids without revealing the slightest sign of being overwhelmed. She has a commanding edge in her voice when speaking to these refugees from Iraq, Syria and Yemen (ages 5-14). This authoritative presence is always accompanied with a smile, the kind of smile adults make when they see cute kids doing ridiculous things. Bidour is a counselor this summer at the Collateral Repair Project [CRP], a small start-up refugee center located in Al-Hashmi Al-Shamali, an eastern neighborhood in the city. Her job: to keep these kids entertained as well as to teach them English and basic math skills. If it doesn’t sound like an easy responsibility–you’re right, it’s not. There’s nothing easy about managing a small army of kids screaming in Arabic. Occasionally one of them will come to me with a request that I can’t understand, so I get help from Bidour. In this respect, she takes care of me as well; it’s what she does.
Bidour is the oldest of three in her family. “It’s kind of been a thing that I’ve been doing since I was a kid. If two other kids were having a fight, I’d try to break them up, if they had an argument, I’d try to solve it.”
Bidour left Iraq with her family in 2005 and moved to Jordan for five years, leaving once again for Canada as she entered high school. The decision to leave her home country came when her mother was shot in the leg by American troops. “I remember her coming home with her legs bloody and all wrapped up, and I remember asking ‘what happened?!’ they told me ‘your mom was shot,’ and I just didn’t believe it for like a whole week.” Bidour was in the third grade. Her mother is fine now, but after that incident, her family decided to move to Jordan. They then applied for immigration to Canada a year after arriving in Amman. In the mean time, Bidour was enrolled in the New English School, a small private institution that helped Bidour learn English. “The only [English] words I knew were ‘book,’ ‘small,’ and ‘capital,’ and ‘capital’ at that time I thought was the opposite of ‘small,’ because I was thinking of ‘capital letters,’” she says, laughing, “so it was hard the first year, but it got better.” She was placed in an intensive tutoring program at the school, but in just one year gained enough grasp of the language to attend regular classes at the school.
Bidour was 14 when her family moved to Toronto, her first time out of the Middle East. “I was sad leaving my friends and the school I got used to,” she recalls, “I didn’t want to be the new kid again. But I actually really love Canada, I consider it more my home than I consider Jordan my home.” She quickly fell in love with Toronto. She finished high school there and now studies Life Science at the University of Toronto. She’s always loved science, it was her strongest subject in grade school and she usually got the highest marks in the class. She plans to go to medical school after, focusing on dentistry, a dream she says she’s had since the 7th grade. “Before then, I wanted to be an engineer, but after that I really liked the medical field more, because you get to help people and do work with your hands… otherwise I might get bored.” She just finished her second year of undergraduate work at Toronto. She loves the environment there; there are no mean Canadians.
Bidour usually comes to Jordan for the summer to visit family and friends, but she’s also here to volunteer. “I figured I’d come for a bit longer this time to do something helpful, make something productive out of my stay here.” Along with her work as a counselor at CRP, Bidour volunteers her time at both the Jordanian and Iraqi food bank. The latter of these two doesn’t actually have an office, so she spends her time delivering food to families around Amman. “It’s a very eye-opening experience because I get to see some of the conditions some of the families are living in, and it was heart-breaking, honestly, it changed my perspective on life.” It’s experiences like this that have made Bidour consider incorporating philanthropic work with her future dreams as a dentist, possibly working without pay for kids and patients who are in serious need. “I want to dedicate maybe every summer to go help with an organization or something.”
Bidour’s strategy when working with kids is simply to get them to think of her as their friend. Working with refugee kids is a little different from a standard camp counselor. They often have a more independent streak which comes from moving around a lot, while at the same time, living with parents who are constantly in search for work. “A lot of them I feel like spend their time on the streets here, so they need to learn some of the discipline aspects. For example, whenever we want to start a game and we tell them to make a line, no one stands in line… so it’s all of these simple little things that I feel like no one has taught them before that we need to focus on…” she says. “A lot of the time, they’ll take things as a threat, like someone will bump into them and they’ll just start a fight with them.” But the benefits of working with these kids easily outweigh any hardships. “I just want them to see me as their friend… I love it when the older kids will want me on their team when I come over to watch them play soccer,” she says. Bidour also notes that the older kids in the camp are especially thoughtful when it comes to taking care of their younger siblings, always asking for two cups of water instead of just one when they’re thirsty, for example. “I feel like I went through a similar thing [growing up],” she says, “When I see them, I feel privileged, I feel thankful for what I have, I feel thankful for what I’ve been through, and at the same time I try to help them out as much as possible.”