Thousands raised at weekend event for Syrian, Turkish earthquake relief

GUELPH – A fundraiser here for Syrian and Turkish earthquake relief was a great success, raised thousands for the cause. 

About 40 people showed up at Retour Bistro for the event on March 18.

Organizer Kate Nixon said the fundraiser was in honour of Turkish and Syrian communities “who have been struck with disaster.

“We are simply here … to support those on the ground and spread awareness,” said Nixon.

The earthquake

An earthquake near the border of Turkiye and Syria on Feb. 6 has killed 56,000 people thus far.

(Turkish officials have asked the country be referred to in English as it is in Turkish – Turkiye).  

Millions of people were displaced by the earthquake and many more are impacted, going without access to necessities like food, clothing and medical supplies. 

“At times like this it can feel like we are so powerless being so far away,” Nixon said. “But this couldn’t be further from the truth.” 

Sara Kuwatly, a Syrian community member of Guelph and organizer of the fundraiser, said “when I woke up to the news I was just so heartbroken. 

“It felt like the whole world should stop. How could the Earth keep spinning when there’s so much hurt and damage?”

Kuwatly added, “It feels like we can’t catch a break; it’s one tragedy after another.”  

The fundraiser

Award winning dancer Mary Snow entertained attendees with belly dance routines. Photo by Robin George.

The event included a bake sale, raffle, vendor and three performers. 

Turkish musician, educator and choir conductor Burak Ekmekçi played a baglama (a Turkish string instrument) and sang Turkish songs. 

Award winning belly dancer Mary Snow, managing director, senior dancer, instructor and choreographer with Invoketress Dance, performed belly dance routines. 

Rima M. Hanna, a Lebanese PhD candidate, poet, activist and “runner from down south,” shared a range of poems that explore intricacies of the immigrant experience. 

After reading what she planned to be the final poem, the audience begged her to do one more, and Hanna ended the evening’s performances with a poem she wrote herself, leading to an outpouring of support from the crowd.  

Many attendees ordered big plates of traditional Lebanese food, and Retour Bistro donated 10 per cent of sales. 

Bistro owner Layla Saleh said “Syrians and Lebanese are one and the same to me.

Turkish musician, educator and choir conductor Burak Ekmekçi played a baglama and sang Turkish songs.
Photo by Robin George

“They are our neighbours and we take care of our neighbours and help them in their hour of need.”

Event organizers Mayar Alfarra and Leilani Rocha are University of Guelph students who volunteered at the raffle table during the fundraiser. 

Donated raffle items included gift cards from local restaurants, an intricate and colourful lamp, china dishes, clothing, Lush products and plants. 

Alfarra said she was there to help bring the community together to raise money for Turkiye and Syria. 

“We are helping out people’s loved ones in the best way we can,” even though they  “are continents away,” Rocha said.

Rocha noted the event was organized by a group of individuals “who care about social justice,” and Alfarra noted Nixon “brought everybody together.”  

The money raised was donated to Torihawkwari, White Helmets ( and Islamic Relief (