Earlier this year, Ayman Kanaan was nominated for the Summerland Citizen/Volunteer of the Year Award.
Last year he was named a Paul Harris Fellow, by Rotary International, in appreciation for “tangible and significant assistance given for the furtherance of better understanding and friendly relations among peoples of the world.”
Some may wonder who this man is and what has led him to give so much of himself to the helping of others.
Kanaan was born in Saudi Arabia. His parents were both part of the three million Palestinians exiled in 1967.
“The law in Saudi Arabia is, even if you are born there you don’t get citizenship,” explained Kanaan. “You don’t have the same rights as any Saudi. I wasn’t able to go to school there so I came to Canada.”
He was 16 at the time. His brother had come to Vancouver the year before, so the two rented an apartment together.
With a student visa, Kanaan attended Coquitlam College, where he studied computer science.
In 1991 Kanaan was drafted to the Iraq Kuwait War. “Jordan drafted me. All my life I was treated as second class and now all of a sudden they wanted the bodies so they called me for service and I didn’t want to go,” he explained.
Rather than waiting a few years to marry the Canadian girl he had been dating, they married three weeks later.
“I got my sponsorship as a landed immigrant, and with that Jordan could not draft me to war.”
As much as he loved computer science and programming, Kanaan decided sitting in a cubicle was not for him. He got into the construction industry and was the project manager on the Summerland Waterfront Resort when he and his wife and young son moved here in 2007.
A number of years later Kanaan changed careers again, this time following his passion for cooking.
He opened the Stuffed Pepper Restaurant in Summerland, but his marriage ended during that time and the business took its toll on him, so he closed it down two years after opening. He now works as the banquet captain at the same resort he oversaw being built. He also enjoys catering special dinners for people.
The first time Kanaan ever had the opportunity to volunteer was when he lived in Vancouver.
“I was the president for Block Watch, the pilot program done in Burnaby. I have a certificate from Prime Minister Jean Chretien, for a job well done,” said Kanaan. “To me that was exhilarating. I loved being able to help.”
Kanaan is now in his second year of serving as the president for the SADI Unity Youth Club.
He does so because he believes in what this centre does for the young people of Summerland, but also because as he says, “I love working with the kids. I’m a kid at heart so I use that as an excuse to go out and have fun.”
He is also involved with the recently formed Summerland Refugee Sponsorship Group. He serves as a Director and is on the Steering Committee and the Family Support team.
He is also working with such support groups in Oliver, Osoyoos, Naramata and is even working with a Syrian refugee family in the Kootenays via telephone and Skype.
He helps the refugees in their transition to their new homes and enjoys having others to speak Arabic with.
“It’s great. I love it. I wish that I could do more to help more groups and families,” said Kanaan. “It’s humbling to hear their stories when they get here. We take so many things for granted. These families have nothing. They have lost everything. For the kids born in the refugee camps…our playgrounds to them are a big thing. To stand back and watch these kids play…that is what keeps me going.”
Kanaan has no intention of slowing down in his volunteer efforts and feels he can’t say no when it comes to helping others.
“I was blessed to have what I have,” he said. I felt I wanted to be able to give back. Volunteering keeps people grounded, keeps them connected with the community and realizing they are part of a bigger picture.”