By Simona Giacobbi | Tandem
Welcoming him at Toronto’s airport will be a group of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian children. They’ll raise a banner with the words “Ahmed, thank-you for bringing us together.”
Because the Palestinian child’s story not only “resulted in bringing back to life Step by Step” – George Marcello’s association – but also saved the lives of five Israeli children. Canada now wants to welcome and honour the gesture by Ismail Khatib, who on that tragic day decided to donate the liver, kidneys, and lungs of his child who was mistakenly killed by an Israeli soldier.
It was November 3, 2005, in Jenin, a Palestinian city in northern West Bank, during the celebration marking the end of Ramadan. Little Ahmed was playing with a toy machinegun. An Israeli soldier, from a distance of 130 metres, mistook the plastic toy for a real gun. A shot to the head. Ambulance. Then the death. Rather than allowing himself to be blinded by rage and (overwhelmed) by sorrow, the father decided to donate his son’s organs to five Israeli children and a 58-year-old woman.
“Saving lives is more important that any religion,” he had declared at the time. “It’s as if my son has entered into the hearts of every Israeli.”
His uncle had said: “It doesn’t matter who Ahmed’s organs go to. A child is a child.”
Receiving Ahmed’s heart was a 12-year-old Israeli Jew, Samah who had been waiting for a transplant for five years.
“Ahmed brought the Torch of Life back to life,” Marcello declared to Corriere Canadese/Tandem last week. The association founder who is involved with raising awareness for organ donation talks about the difficult moments that have recently forced him to almost shut down Step by Step, which was founded in 1998. Almost. Yes, because Marcello is used to those signs of destiny.
“It was the week of April 13,” he says. “I had just come back from Arizona. I was discouraged. Step by Step’s financial situation was serious. I checked my email – something I hadn’t done in a week. Two in particular struck me. They had arrived at the same time. The first came from a Pakistani student, Uswa. Her father desperately needed a liver transplant. The second email was from an Afghanistan man, Shaheem Joya, a student at the faculty of law at McGill University in Montreal. He wanted to thank Canada – the country that welcomed him and gave him the opportunity to succeed in life with a ‘walk’ from Ottawa to Toronto.”
“Shaheem reminded me what I was like on my first ‘walk’. He was so happy and excited. He kept me updated daily during his trip. He told me about his adventures over the phone. His family is exceptional. He has five sisters and two brothers. They are very good persons. They were all very polite to me.”
That day at Queen’s Park, Marcello and Joya were interviewed by an Afghan community TV broadcaster. It’s a flashback for Marcello:“I thought of Ahmed right away. Such a vivid memory. I always keep his picture with me. I always thought how important it would be to tell his story in my organ donation awareness raising campaigns. I’ve always wished that one day the Torch of Life would stop at Ahmed’s house, that it would be passed into the hands of his family and father.” That series of events and signs of fate lead Marcello to a decision. “I felt the moment had finally arrived to bring this extraordinary story to Canada to honour that such generous gesture.” Thus began Marcello’s project that will be hopefully completed by end of summer.
“The original idea was to create a documentary,” he explains by filming our day to day journey into trying to bring Mr Khatib here. “Shaheem recently received news of the father’s positive response to our invitation.”