Toronto·Video

Rola Dagher, president of Cisco Systems Canada, calls on Canadians to help rebuild Beirut

Rola Dagher, president of Cisco Canada, speaks with Dwight Drummond about her response to the blast in Beirut and what she is doing to help rebuild Lebanon's capital city.

'If every Canadian donates a dollar, we can make a difference,' says Lebanese Canadian businesswoman

Rola Dagher, a Lebanese Canadian businesswoman who now lives in Toronto, says she knew she had to help Beirut after learning about the blast. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

When Rola Dagher first heard about the blast that rocked Beirut last week, she couldn't move.

"Shocked, heartbroken, devastated and I froze. I don't think I got out of my chair for four hours," Dagher told CBC Toronto News at 6 host Dwight Drummond in an interview that aired on Wednesday.

Her nephew, a volunteer firefighter, was missing and her sister told her, crying, that she didn't know if he was alive or not. After five hours and many phone calls, Dagher said her sister finally found out he had survived. 

The blast itself was unreal, she said.

"It was like watching a movie. We couldn't believe that it was real. I couldn't stop crying. But at the same time, I was absolutely determined to find my nephew and to make sure that everyone is safe first," she said.

Dagher, a Lebanese Canadian businesswoman who now lives in Toronto, said she knew she had to help. Thirty-one years ago, she left Lebanon, where she was born. She is now president of Cisco Systems Canada.

She said called about 10 Lebanese-Canadian leaders she knew and convinced them they had to give back to the community.

"I said, 'We can't be sitting here and just watching the news.' I said: 'We're blessed for being in a country like Canada that is safe but it's our job and our duty to give back to our community,'" she said.

'Life is an opportunity for us to make the best of it'

"And I said: 'We need to start the conversation and we need to start something and we need to lobby the government and we need to go after every single Lebanese person in Canada to start a movement.'" 

Those calls led to the formation of the Lebanese Canadian Coalition that has pledged to raise $2.5 million for relief efforts in Beirut. It was up and running in three days.

Watch Rola Dagher talk to Dwight Drummond about the blast that rocked Beirut and the movement she has helped to start:

It has been just over a week since a massive explosion rocked Beirut. The Lebanese Canadian Coalition is trying to raise $2.5 M to donate toward recovery efforts. One of its leaders is Rola Dagher, the president of Cisco Canada. CBC Toronto News at 6 anchor Dwight Drummond sat down with her this week to talk about the movement she wants to help start. 7:44

The massive explosion of nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate in Beirut's port on Aug. 4 killed at least 171 people, injured about 6,000 others and caused widespread damage.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government has agreed to match all donations made by Canadians to specific humanitarian organizations between the dates of Aug. 4 and Aug. 24, up to a maximum of $5 million.

Now, Dagher says, the fundraising begins.

"If every Canadian donates a dollar, we can make a difference," she says.

"We definitely need more support because what Lebanon is going through right now, it's surreal. It's going to take Lebanon a long time to rebuild."

Members of the Lebanese-Canadian community light candles at a weekend vigil in Toronto for those killed in the blast in Beirut. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Dagher acknowledged to Drummond that she is making a name for herself as a business leader who has been outspoken on such subjects as immigration and mental health.

Last year, she was named one of the 2019 WXN Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada, the RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant winners 2019 and the 2019 Women in Communications and Technology (WCT) Woman of the Year.

"My father taught me something that I would never forget: 'Life owes you nothing. Life is an opportunity for us to make the best of it.' And I learned everything that I know. I earned it because I worked hard. And the only way I could be blessed is to return it," she says.

In an interview with Canadian Immigrant magazine this year, Dagher was asked to share her main piece of advice for people new to Canada. She said: "Learn it, earn it and return it."

With files from The Associated Press

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