Faith Dickinson believes gratitude can transcend language and cultural barriers.
She would know.
At just 15 years of age, the Lakefield, Ont., teen has been heralded throughout the world for providing warmth and care to cancer patients with her hand-made “Cuddles for Cancer” blankets.
Faith Dickinson with her plaid fleece cuddle blankets at NCC
Just a few months ago, the Grade 10 Thomas A. Stewart student was presented the inaugural Diana Award at St. James Palace in London by both Princes Harry and William. Faith was among 20 youth to receive the prestigious award founded on the late Princess Diana’s belief that young people have the power to change the world.
Having sewn more than 3,500 fleece blankets that have been sent all across Canada, the United States, France, England and Australia, Faith has also created a signature blanket for soldiers overseas and those suffering from injuries or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many of these blankets have been sent to Afghanistan and Kuwait.
Left to right: Hend Altech, United Way Youth Ambassador Faith Dickinson, United Way Chair Neil Morton, Malaka Tonbakj, Abir Al Hattab and Sabah Alhamwi
Extending warmth and comfort to newcomer women from Syria, Cuddles for Cancer and United Way Youth Ambassador Faith Dickinson demonstrates the power of community
Faith—who is Youth Ambassador (a newly-created role) for the 76th Annual United Way of Peterborough Campaign—recently presented four of her cuddle blankets to clients of the New Canadians Centre (NCC).
“I’m a bit nervous meeting these women,” Faith explains, unfolding the blankets—two of which were made of plaid fleece. “My mom and I thought it would be fun to highlight the campaign theme which is anything and everything plaid.”
Abir Al Hattab receives a fleece "cuddle" blanket from United Way Youth Ambassador, Faith Dickinson
Initiated by Campaign Chair Neil Morton (co-founder of PTBOCanada.com), the plaid thread is running throughout the United Way of Peterborough campaign, including the launch on Tuesday, September 19th where most of the capacity crowd dressed in the fabric at the Evinrude Centre.
A partner agency that receives funding from the United Way, the NCC is a federally-designated welcome centre for Syrian refugees. To date, close to 350 Syrians have arrived in Peterborough, more than half of this number being children.
Faith and Hend Altech share a hug.
“I don’t speak Arabic,” Faith explains quietly, smiling at the four women who have gathered in the main space at the NCC. In addition to having fled their war-torn homeland, these four women—Hend Altech, Malaka Tonbakj, Abir Al Hattab and Sabah Alhamwi—face their own personal struggles with cancer, scleroderma, disability as well as the loneliness and feelings of despair associated with starting over in a new country where you don’t know anyone, or speak the language.
“I want these women to feel comfort and support and welcomed by myself and our community," says Faith. "I want them to know we understand what a struggle it’s been to get here to build a life for themselves and their families. I hope by presenting them with the blankets, it will convey what I want to say.”
Faith presents plaid cuddle blanket to Malaka Tonbakj.
And it did. Despite language barriers, Faith’s welcoming message of love and support was received—loud and clear. “When I handed them their blankets, they put their hands over their hearts as if to say thank you,” she says. A powerful expression of gratitude transcending language and cultural barriers, the warmth and comfort extended to these women was felt by everyone present.
“It was very moving both for myself and my Mom and Dad,” adds Faith. “One of the women, Hend, wanted to have her picture taken with me to send to her family who are still living in Syria. She kept nodding and smiling at me. And then she called me habibti (an Arabic term of affection) and we all started laughing and calling one another habibti. It was a lot of fun. I won’t forget it.”