Syrian-born Faisal Alazam returned home to Montreal earlier this week from a visit to refugee camps along the Turkish border.
"I had to see things with my own eyes," said Alazem, director of the Syrian Canadian Council of Montreal.
One million refugee children
Half of the two million people who have fled Syria since the start of the civil war two years ago are children – many of them orphans.
Alazam visited a school attended by 1,200 of those children, financed entirely by funds collected in Montreal.
He brought each student a water bottle, a toy and school supplies purchased mostly with money from his own pocket.
"They all have a tragic story, but they are so happy to have the school," Alazem said. "It's as if the school was the hope."
Risky cross-border journey
Alazem also crossed the border into Syria to visit field hospitals, just a day after two bombs exploded in the area.
He travelled with doctors who make the perilous journey every day
"They were trying to comfort me," he said. "They were looking at the sky, [saying,] 'Oh don't worry, it's cloudy. When it's cloudy, they don't throw bombs, or they don't fly.'"
He said more difficult than conquering his fear of being bombed was coping with what he saw at the field hospital.
"At least half the rooms were occupied by children that were paralyzed or had one or two legs cut off. So that was very, very hard to witness," he said.
Plan to return to camps
Alazam's wife, Lama Talje, is happy to have her husband home safe and sound. However, she said her husband's efforts are worth the risk and worry.
"He spends time every day trying to make a difference," Talje said. "That's what I'm proud of."
Alazem plans to go back again this year.
"There's this sense that they have been abandoned," he said. "Whenever they see a hand reaching out, you can't imagine how it feels to them."