Extraordinary bond: a Saint Johner's mission to save a Syrian friend

Noor Ogli, 27, was a law student in Damascus, Syria, before the war. Now, suffering from severe mobility problems and relying on a wheelchair, she's hoping to move to Canada, with the help of a friend, Saint Johner Zoë Caddell.

In need of medical treatment, Noor Ogli, 27, dreams of new life in Canada, with help from friend Zoë Caddell

Noor Ogli, 27, left, from Damascus, Syria, and Saint Johner Zoe Caddell, 24, have forged an unlikely friendship.

Leaning in and smiling together, Zoë Caddell and Noor Ogli look like any twentysomething friends posing for a selfie.

But the bond between Caddell, 24, from Saint John, and Ogli, 27, from Damascus, Syria, was an unlikely one, crossing international borders and huge disparities in life circumstances. 

They're hoping that bond will be enough to transform the lives of Ogli and her family.

Fast friends

Zoë Caddell and Noor Ogli met in May 2016, when Caddell was volunteering at rural camps for Syrian refugees in Turkey. Noor uses a wheelchair and needs medical treatment. (Zoe Caddell)

The  young women met last May in İzmir, a city of 2.8 million on Turkey's Aegean coast. Caddell was volunteering in poor rural camps when the two became "fast friends," bonding over Arabic and English lessons, Caddell said.

"People are drawn to Noor," said Caddell. "She takes people — especially foreigners — by surprise because she's so outspoken with a wicked, dark sense of humour."

Ogli had been a law student at Damascus University when the school was bombed in 2012.

"Some of my friends, they died," said Noor, who learned English while attending American schools as a child. "I saw them fly up in the air." She suffered injuries in the bombing that have slowly robbed her of mobility.

Zoe Caddell met Noor Ogli while Caddell was volunteering in a Turkish refugee camp (pictured). (Zoe Caddell)

"I got shock and I had a high fever," she said. "I didn't get any treatment or physical therapy, so my muscles are very weak."

She now uses a wheelchair, relying on her aging mother to care for her. 

Failed escape

Ogli's family attempted three times to cross illegally into Greece to seek medical care. On one attempt, the boat sank. On another, they were caught and imprisoned without food.

She and her mother and brother have lived in Turkey since January 2016.

In Turkey, Ogli has no support for her disability.

Noor Ogli, pictured with James Smith, a volunteer in Turkey. Nerve damage to her legs has meant the former law student must use a wheelchair. (Zoe Caddell)

"I can't walk," she said. "I can't study. I can't work. I don't have rights. Sometimes I feel sad and scared. My mother is old, and my brother is not strong. If anything happened to my mother, nobody would take care of me."

But Ogli "has the most phenomenal outlook on life," Caddell said.

"She was credits away from finishing her degree, and that was taken from her. Her father and other two brothers remain trapped in Damascus. But she is a brilliant young woman, with this really fiery attitude about it all."

Chance for a new life

Caddell's Turkish visa expired this week, meaning she had to leave the country — and her friend.

But Caddell, with assistance from her family, partners from Kennebecasis Baptist Church and the community, has raised $18,000 to privately sponsor the Ogli family's immigration to Canada.

'Sometimes I feel sad and scared,' Olgi says. 'My mother is old, and my brother is not strong. If anything happened to my mother, nobody would take care of me.' Caddell is raising money to bring Noor, her mother Amal, and brother to Canada. (Submitted by Zoe Caddell)

"Canada would mean a proper education and medical treatment for my friend," Caddell said.

An additional $10,000, at least, is needed to complete the sponsorship process.

"It's a tricky process, and there's a long road ahead of us, but hopefully she'll be in Canada within the year," said Caddell. "She could focus on getting medical attention and getting back to school and living a normal life."

"I want to get my treatment, finish my education, and work. I want to be active in the community," said Ogli.

"I hope the people in Canada will help me."