Giving Hope in New Home

By Brent Smyth

Brent Smyth

Photographer

51 Division

A group of police officers had the opportunity to deliver a special welcome to Canada to over 500 newcomer and refugee families this holiday season.

Project Hope collected over $250,000 worth of toys and essential items such as school supplies and winter jackets and distributed them at community centres, shelters and hotels housing refugees in Toronto and Peel region.

The initiative began with Toronto Police officers Mustafa Popalzai and Farzad Ghotbi in 2021 to help refugees from Afghanistan and has now expanded to help newcomers from countries around the world. Both officers came to Canada as refugees.

It was emotional for Ghotbi, as it brought back memories of coming to Canada as a refugee.

“I remember when I first came to Canada with my parents, we were in an immigration centre, and they were telling us that you cannot be on any kind of government assistance program,” sadi Ghotbi, who came from Iran as a teenager. “I'll never forget that - because you remember that experience, those first initial contact you have with some authorities here. It didn't seem like we were welcome here. So for these families to meet the police for the first time and have this positive interaction and then get a gift and, you know, smile and laugh and that to me… I wish I had that. I wish because that would have changed things so much more for the better from the get go.”

 

 

Police officer handing to child
Mustafa Popalzai hands out toys Photo: Brent Smyth

 

 

Popalzai said it was a great opportunity for police officers to have an impactful moment in someone’s life.

“This is often their first point of contact with police and we want them to get accustomed and used to the uniform and understand that despite the fact that we wear the uniform, it doesn't mean that we're always there to enforce a law,” he said. “We wear the uniform, but we’re still people, people who are there to help them, to guide and mentor them if they want that help.”

The recipient families came from across the globe, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Barbados, Nigeria, Syria, South Sudan, Uganda and Ukraine. Some families came to Canada as recently as December 11.

Jackline Ninsiima, a Support Group Facilitator at Polycultural Immigrant and Community Services, one of the sites that received donations from Project Hope, said these donations have an immediate positive effect.

“It’s very safe to say that these donations are making a large difference in their lives. They absolutely do,” Ninsiima said.

“Especially newcomers who come from tropical countries – normally when they come here they are shocked by the cold. We reached out to Project Hope because there is a need. The donations they give us, it really helps these parents who need these kind of donations, and they are grateful. The smiles on people’s faces - the kids, having these donations, especially at this time of the year.”

A total of 35 police officers, 40 volunteers and numerous businesses make the project work.

Since 2021, Project Hope has donated over $1 million worth of goods.

 

Police Officers with donated toys
Officers (left to right) Mircea Biga, Farhan Ali, Mustafa Popalzai and Farzad Ghotbi with donations at one of the drop-off locations Photo: Brent Smyth

 

 

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