When I started this assignment, I ran through a list of people as possible leaders to interview, such as Kevin Perry, my curling coach, Richard Steward, the mayor of Coquitlam, and Rodney Lee, the manager of the Hoy Creek hatchery. I eventually decided upon Zeid Founouni, the father or my sister’s best friend, Nouri, and a volunteer police officer for the Coquitlam RCMP. He has been a volunteer police officer, officially known as an Auxiliary Constable, for 7 years and is constantly finding new ways to involve himself in our community. As an Auxiliary Constable, he visits schools and gives talks about safety, as well as responds to 911 calls and joins regular police officers on general duty. This past summer he also volunteered at a youth RCMP camp that both my sister and Nouri attended. When he isn’t on duty, he is a stay at home father to three kids (his son Nouri, and his two daughters, Zara and Talia) who has a passion for art, more specifically paint and jewelry making. He has an account on Saatchi Art (http://www.saatchiart.com/account/profile/97275) where he has shared one of his paintings, Canary’s Kiss, as well as an in-depth bio. This includes some of his personal background, such as he majored in philosophy and his relationship to art.
What really stood out to me was his most recent efforts to help Syrian refugees. While doing my background research, I discovered that for the past few months Zeid has been working on building a community to welcome Syrian refugees to Coquitlam. This stood out to me in particular because my family, like his, heard it on the news and wanted to help out as well. We will be helping a family get accustomed to our society, as well as having them over every week for an afternoon/evening to teach them new dinner and dessert recipes and get them settled in Coquitlam. During their first few weeks we also intend to help them decorate and collect all the basics (cooking utensils, towels, bedroom linens, etc.) for their new house.
As you will notice, I chose to base my interview questions off his work around Syrian refugees. I have recorded the interview on SoundCloud, as well as typed out a transcript below for those who cannot access the SoundCloud for any reason.
NOTE: Please ignore any grammatical errors in the interview below. All answers were directly quoted from the recording above.
To start things off, what do you do as a volunteer police officer, or as my sister told me, Auxiliary Constable?
Yes, the program is called the Auxiliary Constable program and it is a volunteer position. What we do is we supplement the work of the regular members. We may need to do community work. So we go to block parties, we visit schools and give school talks about safety, mostly around halloween time, and we do go out with the regular police officers on the general duty, which is responding to 911 calls, but that is pretty much it.
How often do you respond to 911 calls? How often do they call you as oppose to someone else?
Oh, you see when we go out on general duty it has to always be with regular members. The regular member will be driving and we’ll be next to them. The way it works is that the regular members get a call, and we go out and we respond to the call together. So our role as auxiliaries is not enforcement, unless we are with a regular member, and then the supervision of a regular member makes us very close to being regular members ourselves. We are the second part of that team, the leader is the regular member and we follow and support their team.
What inspired you to become a volunteer police officer?
Being a police officer was the most alienate thing to my nature. I didn’t grow up liking the army or toy soldiers or wearing a police costume for Halloween. But I remember when my son, my first child, was born and he started to grow up. He was around three years old, and it was important for me to teach him how to be a good person and be an active member in his community. So I sat him beside me and started to explain to him what volunteer work is. I explained that to him and then we sat together, and we went on the internet to find try to find volunteer positions in our community and I found a few. I hadn’t even imagined that we could be volunteer police officers, I didn’t know there was such a position. So I explained that to him and we looked into different options, and then my wife mentioned that she saw a flyer somewhere that the RCMP has an Auxiliary Constable program. I went and checked it out ,and I took my son with me just to show him how the process happens, and I had my first interview with my boy next to me and he was impressed, he liked the idea that his dad was doing this.
Wow, so as a kid you never thought of doing this at all?
No, my brother who is four years younger than I am was always that typical boy that is into the army, police, action and everything, and he had this whole set of action men. I had little animals toys, thats what I wanted.
Going a little off track, you paint, correct? As a kid did you still like that too?
I do. Ever since I was a child my relationship to art came naturally. This is what I love spending my time doing, and I am still doing it now. So yes, thats the way my character, I suppose, is.
I heard that you were trying to help out Syrian refugees, and you wanted to start a community to welcome them to Coquitlam?
Yes, I have been going in an out of meetings with some community members last week. Now, when we first heard that we would be receiving Syrian refugees among us, almost everyone I know was interested and wanted to help and have a part, which is what makes our community beautiful. So I have been asked by many of those friends because of my background, my family is from the Middle East. I grew up in Lebanon, and I only immigrated here 11 years ago. So most of my life, until 11 years ago, was in the Middle East. So I’ve been asked for input, for advice about the culture, what kind of people to expect, what their needs would be, things about cultural sensitivity, and so on. So, I just became part of that initially, nothing special.
How do you feel being a volunteer police officer will influence the refugees perspective of you? Do you think yourself, along with others, could change their perspective?
Oh yes definitely, thats very, very true because in the past four years I have been with the auxiliary program I have been chosen to attend events that are centred around Syrian refugees and recent immigrants. I have found it very beneficial for these groups to have contact with a police officer that is positive and a police officer that is from their background and speaks their language. Most of the refugees flee their countries because of war and dictatorships, and in those countries dictators use their police force to torture and murder, so these people come here and they have past trauma and whenever they see a person in uniform that makes them scared. A lot of people actually wear a uniform after the contact, and they were congratulating me about doing this. What I’m doing and they feel much more safe and secure and proud that one of them is actually in this position. I see that and the city has seen that, and I have been asked by the officials to try to have my uniform on when i’ll be greeting these refugees and helping them. So now the uniform is a positive instead of a negative.
What inspired you to help out Syrian refugees? What got you into that initially?
Initially was like the rest of the members in my community, we heard it in the news. We’ve been hearing for the past 5-6 years what is happening over there, but it felt far away and when we heard that we will have the chance to some balance of justic,e I was just one of many who wanted to do something.
I heard that you had the idea to collect Arabic books so the refugees have something for entertainment when they get here. could you tell me more about that?
Well, it was a question that was asked to me by a teacher in the school system whether I have access to Arabic children’s books or if I can advise her on how to get her hands on such books for children because our public libraries don’t have Arabic books for children. I thought I’d ask my connections back in the Middle East, but until now I haven’t really been successful because the people who want to help you with that initiative and send books are dealing with struggles in their on countries, and these countries are like Lebanon, adjacent to Syria and they have their won problems. A lot of the groups that I wanted to encourage to send or help in that are actually doing a lot already in the refugee camps in Lebanon because, see Lebanon is a very small country and it already has over 1 million Syrian refugees. I am not sure of the number, but its more than 1 million and less than 2. So what we are getting in Canada is just a very small fraction of the refugees that are being helped everywhere in the Middle East.
Do you want to continue to try to collect books?
Well, what I am going to do now, what Im thinking of doing is that first of all I am going to write a storybook. I am going to try to write a story book, no promises, but I am going to try to do that because I was thinking of something directed towards introduction of the kids to their city. I want to write this book for Syrian refugee children, this is for you. I am thinking that I might be able to do that. Otherwise, one of the meetings that I have been in this week was at the library with the library personnel that were there, and they were interested to know about what kind of books they can get for these children, so that solved the problem. They are willing and interested in books combining Arabic and English, so they will be able to read books in Arabic and learn English at the same time. I think that’s solved already, because, you know, nobody is too old to enjoy a picture book. There is a certain point when you stop reading them, but then again you have contact with children or you have your own children and then you are reading them all over again to your children and you are enjoying it too. So anyone who comes here, having lost everything, being scared, having seen horrible, horrible things happen to them and their family, these kids just like any other kid you put a nice picture book in front of them and they are just lost in it.
Are there any other projects you are working on the community right now?
I have a meeting tomorrow with a member of a church in Coquitlam, and she is very interested, and her church is very interested, in helping out as much as they can. But she wants to be informed more about possible cultural sensitivities and nuances, so her contact with them will be as agreeable for them. She just wants to make sure that she can offer all that she can to this group. So she wants to sit with me and we will be talking about the cultural sensitivities of Islams.
To finish off, what has been the most rewarding experience for you as a volunteer police officer since you started?
The children. It has been amazing how children like cops. Now, a lot of them might grow up and mistrust them and then not like me, but the first step is when the children have positive contact with police at a very early age and that will effect them positively in the future. Because what we do is we go to schools. What we do is sit with them and show them we are there to protect them and their families, and we tell them about what they need to do in the future. Because a lot of them want to be cops, we tell them to be a cop you have to a have a very clean record and try not to make mistakes, and when your 18-20 and finished high school you can apply and that works. I remember visiting one class, and I met the mom of one of the girls the next day and she just told me “you know, my daughter came back home, and she said I feel so much more safe and secure now that I know a police man personally because my kid goes to that school and she used to see me as the father of Nouri (his son) and now she sees me as a police man and she put that together and she said I know him personally, I know he is a police man, and I feel much more safe an secure”. Which is good that I can do something positive for children.
After having this conversation with Zeid, I have been opened up to so many more volunteer opportunities in the community, as well as other ways I can help out Syrian refugees. As I mentioned above, my family will be helping another family get settled here in Coquitlam, and this has definitely motivated me to prepare some recipes and games to engage the family when they get here. Before this interview, I knew Zeid only as the father of Nouri, but now I feel like I got to see another side of him. In my opinion, he truly embodies the qualities of a good leader. In just 17 mins. and 29 secs. he has shown generosity, compassion, accountability, effort, and many more qualities in an effective leader. I am very grateful that he took the time out of his day to come meet with me. I have gained a new appreciation for not only our community’s police force, but all the police officers across Canada keeping our country safe and welcoming in those in need.
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