Ilham Chabi’s job is to find people homes, so she’s feeling a strong urge to return home to Morocco and help however she can.
“If I could provide support with the blankets or [something as simple] as a tent — so people can actually go and sleep at night — that will probably be a small reward to my heart,” the Ottawa realtor said on the weekend.
Chabi’s native country is grappling with the devastation wrought by the nation’s strongest earthquake in more than a century.
The disaster has killed more than 2,100 people, a number that is expected to rise. The United Nations estimated 300,000 people were affected by Friday night’s magnitude 6.8 quake.
Chabi has lived in Canada’s capital for 29 years, while some of her family lives in Morocco, including her mother and an older sister who was on the phone with Chabi when the quake hit.
“She was stressed, and the first thing she thought about is to let everyone know and to run outside,” Chabi said.
The family is safe, Chabi said, but so many Moroccans, including residents of ruined mountain villages, desperately need help.
“That’s what’s [pushing] that motivation for me to go back and actually do something physical,” Chabi said, adding that she’s seriously considering flying out to Morocco as early as this Wednesday.
In the meantime, Chabi is speaking to friends who are willing to buy essential supplies in Canada for her and others to take overseas.
“People need medication, food, blankets, tents, things that are going to keep them warm,” she said.
Chabi added she has spoken to the Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco in Ottawa about organizing flights with the Moroccan national airline.
The Moroccan government has not yet requested international help, according to a statement from Global Affairs Canada on Sunday evening.
That’s a source of concern for relief groups revved up to help.
The federal government has been in contact with approximately 50 Canadian citizens in Morocco and is providing assistance but is not aware of any Canadian citizen injured or killed in the earthquake, the department added.
Gathering held outside embassy
The embassy welcolmed people to gather outside its building on Sunday evening to mourn the earthquake’s victims.
Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe was among the dignitaries who were there.
The Moroccan population in Ottawa numbers over 2,000 people — 5,000 when you factor in Gatineau, Que., and other nearby areas of western Quebec — and has grown rapidly in the last three years, Chabi said.
Khalid Bouazza, the owner of Moroccan Market Centre in Ottawa, has family back in Morocco too that were unharmed.
Still, he worries about parts of the country where historic infrastructure is more vulnerable to natural disasters. He invited people to gather at this store on the weekend to commune and share information.
“Those people [that] need the support, they need to talk to somebody,” he said.
Ibrahim Sballil, chairman of the board for le Centre islamique de l’Outaouais in Gatineau, said the mosque was planning a fundraiser on Friday.
“I am a Moroccan, so … I feel very engaged and committed with this issue now,” he said.