Tuesday December 26, 2017

'Absolutely heartwarming': Group raises $150K in a week for heroic Mosque shooting survivor

Aymen Derbali, centre, is paralyzed and therefore can no longer live with his family in their fourth-floor apartment. The community is rallying to raise money for a new home.

Aymen Derbali, centre, is paralyzed and therefore can no longer live with his family in their fourth-floor apartment. The community is rallying to raise money for a new home. (Submitted by Dawanet)

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Canadians are opening their wallets to help a man who took seven bullets and lost the use of his legs trying to protect others during the Quebec City mosque shooting nearly a year ago.

As of Tuesday, the Canadian-Muslim non-profit DawaNet had raised more than $150,000 to buy a wheelchair-accessible home for Aymen Derbali and his family. The online campaign launched less than a week ago.

"It's been absolutely heartwarming, and shouldn't be surprising," DawaNet volunteer Amira Elghawaby told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

"We are also in the holidays by coincidence, so many of us are thinking about all the blessings in our own lives."

Derbali, a father of three young children, was praying at a Quebec City mosque on Jan. 29 when an armed man walked in and opened fire, killing six people.

While others fled for cover, witnesses say Derbali turned to face the shooter.

"He was trying to actually get his attention so that he would focus on him instead of the others, and he would give the others an opportunity to get away," Elghawaby said. 

"It's an incredible act of heroism that he showed."

Aymen Derbali

Canadians have donated more than $150,000 in a week to help Derbali get a wheelchair-accessible home. (Tariq/DawaNet)

But Derbali paid a hefty price for his courage.

He was shot seven times and sustained critical injuries. He spent two months in a coma.

Derbali  survived, but he lost the use of both of his legs and now lives in a rehabilitation centre in the Quebec City area.

He's due to be discharged soon, but his doctors have warned against moving back into his family's fourth-floor apartment because of his mobility limitations.

"So it's critical that we help him find a home as soon as possible so he can spend a night with his family, which, until now — almost one year after this horrible massacre — he still hasn't really been able to do," Elghawaby said.

Amira Elghawaby

Amira Elghawaby says the support has been 'heartwarming' as DawaNet surpasses one third of its $400,000 fundraising goal.

The gesture is an important show of support not just for the Derbali family, she said, but for the entire Quebec Muslim community, which is still reeling from last year's deadly attack.

"Despite all the trauma that they've been through, Aymen is really at the front of everyone's thoughts because nobody really knows what he's going to do once he's out of the rehab centre," she said.

'He's so touched'

The group is just over a third of the way to its $400,000 goal, which it hopes to hit by Jan. 28 — the eve of the shooting's first anniversary. 

"He's so touched. You know, speaking with him in the past few days, it's really restoring a lot of his confidence," Elghawaby said. 

She said the family has their eyes on an accessible home in the vicinity of the mosque, which Derbali still attends every Friday in his wheelchair.

"They have been trying to get more support from officials and whatnot and they have felt a little bit alone, I think," she said.

"So this campaign has demonstrated to them why they should remain strong in their belief that fellow Canadians won't let him down. We are going to recognize his heroism, what they've been through."