Canadian Fund Aids Refugees

Georges Azzaria set up the Good Samaritan Relief Fund in 1974 primarily to aid Palestinian refugees who had fled to Jordan. A Chaldean Catholic born in Tall Kayf in northern Iraq, he immigrated to Canada with his family in 1949, settled in the Montréal area and, taking advantage of the opportunities his new country offered, became a successful importer-exporter.

According to his son Louis, the entrepreneur never forgot the lands he left behind. After he and his wife and children left Iraq – and before coming to Canada – they lived in Syria and Lebanon for several years where he observed firsthand the hardships many people endure.

Louis Azzaria theorized that his father’s turning to Catholic Near East Welfare Association was a way for him to “give back” to the countries that had sheltered him before he came to Canada in search of a better life. In the early 1970’s, Georges Azzaria had met Msgr. John G. Nolan, then Secretary General of CNEWA. Mr. Azzaria was impressed with the agency’s work in the Middle East, and though he was generous in his support of CNEWA projects, he felt he could do more.

When the time came to “do more,” the businessman knew where he wanted his money to go. He set up the Good Samaritan Relief Fund to aid the marginalized in the Middle East and particularly Palestinian refugees in Jordan. The fund began contributing to two medical centers supported by CNEWA: the Italian Hospital in Amman, the nation’s capital, and the Mother of Mercy mother and child clinic in Zerqa, northeast of Amman.

Since Georges Azzaria’s death in 1984, the fund has been directed by his son Louis. He is carrying on the work of his father, but admits that since the outbreak of war in Iraq the emphasis has shifted to aiding Iraqi refugees in Jordan. Furthermore, Louis Azzaria reported, since hostilities began, the Good Samaritan Fund has also been working with the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Beirut, who have been dispensing medicines and emergency rations to the wounded and homeless there.

A hands-on manager, in the early 1990’s Mr. Azzaria visited Amman where he met with Ra’ed Bahou, CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq. The two men keep in touch with Mr. Azzaria stressing that a priority of the Good Samaritan Fund must be women and children in need. Though he is concerned about the effects of war on Iraqis, Mr. Azzaria has no desire to visit the country. Many of his relatives, he said, have immigrated to the United States, some settling in the Chaldean Catholic community that has sprung up in the Detroit, Michigan, area.

Therese Azzaria, Louis Azzaria’s sister, who divides her time between Montréal and Ottawa, is equally involved in the work of the fund. She said her father would be gratified. “The fund is our father’s legacy and that it’s now helping Iraqis is doubly meaningful.”

Both Therese and Louis Azzaria are carrying on the family tradition of working with CNEWA. They were especially pleased when, in late 2003, CNEWA Canada was established, chaired by Archbishop Marcel A.J. Gervais of Ottawa. This allowed the agency to become a registered Canadian charity offering income tax advantages to Canadian donors. The national office is in Ottawa and raises funds to support the work of CNEWA.

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