Ottawa business leaders raise more than $225K for Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser

Lebanese ambassador, MP David McGuinty, Mayor Jim Watson among special guests at small, backyard gathering
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Some 50 guests gathered in the private Ottawa backyard of Charlie and Majida Saikaley as part of the Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser to help the people of Lebanon recover following the massive explosion that recently tore through the capital city of Beirut. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Editor's Note

OBJ.Social is supported by the generous patronage of Mark Motors.

Ottawa businessman Charlie Saikaley and his wife, Majida, threw a party Wednesday night that really packed a punch, raising more than $225,000 to help the people of Lebanon rebuild their lives following tragedy.

The couple hosted a small and intimate Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser at their astonishingly beautiful new home. They capped the number of guests at 50 and kept the two-hour reception strictly outdoors to limit the possible spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Lebanon’s ambassador to Canada, Fadi Ziadeh, donated the wine and was among the dignitaries in attendance. Other special guests were David McGuinty, Liberal MP for Ottawa South, and Mayor Jim Watson

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The Flag of Lebanon, which features a green cedar tree, was on display at the Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser held in Ottawa on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Saikaley was assisted in his efforts by well-connected volunteer fundraisers Gary Zed and Ottawa obstetrician Dr. George Tawagi. Attendees were asked to make a minimum donation of $2,500 per person or $5,000 per couple. There were many supporters who still gave money despite not being there. Moreover, it wasn’t just Ottawa’s Lebanese-Canadian community stepping up; donations came from a cross-section of people from the business community. 

“I’m pleasantly surprised; everyone really came together,” Saikaley told OBJ.social early in the evening, as guests started filing into his backyard. 

Saikaley hoped to raise $225,000, and by Thursday it was looking as though they were going to exceed that goal.

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From left, Dr. George Tawagi, Charlie Saikaley and Gary Zed were driving forces behind the Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser held in Saikaley’s scenic backyard along the Rideau River on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Ottawa Liberal MP David McGuinty in conversation with entrepreneur Eli Tannis (who placed second against McGuinty as a Conservative candidate in the 2019 federal election) and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson at the Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Lebanon’s ambassador to Canada, Fadi Ziadeh, with Charles Saikaley, who hosted with his wife Majida the Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser at their home in Ottawa on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The Saikaleys’ property is so spacious that it’s practically made for social distancing. It also backs onto the Rideau River, where boaters of all kinds were seen cruising by toward nearby Mooney’s Bay.

All the bite-sized servings of falafel, tabbouleh, prosciutto-wrapped dates and other food were courtesy of Ottawa caterer Shirley Kouri of Peridot45.

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Shirley Kouri, owner of catering company Peridot45, seen with her partner Michael Mrak (Mark Motors Group), donated the food for the Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser held in Ottawa on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips

The money raised is going to the Humanitarian Coalition. It brings together leading aid organizations to provide Canadians with a simple and effective way to help during international humanitarian disasters. The federal government previously announced it will match donations made by individual Canadians to the Humanitarian Coalition and its members, up to a maximum of $8 million.

“We did our homework to make sure we’re giving money to the proper organization,” said Saikaley, who's retired now as a real estate and business law partner at Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall LLP. He continues to own and operate a property management firm and recently became a grandfather for the first time.

Saikaley got a helping hand from his four grown daughters in organizing the fundraiser. The family also donated a combined $27,000 to the cause. 

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Charlie Saikaley, with his six-month-old granddaughter Alessia Stevens and his wife Majida, are joined by their daughters, from left, Tamara Saikaley Foteh, optometrist Carina Saikaley, Alannah Saikaley-Stevens and articling student Selena Saikaley at the Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser hosted at their home on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips

On Aug. 4, a massive explosion hit Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. Besides the number of dead and wounded, the blast was devastating to buildings, infrastructure and people’s livelihoods. The city remains desperate for food, medical supplies and other basic necessities.

The ambassador thanked the Saikaleys “from the bottom of our hearts for organizing this fundraiser to help your motherland, Lebanon. 

“God bless Canada.”

McGuinty told everyone how genuinely happy he was to be in attendance, mentioning how several of his family members married into “warm and loving” Lebanese families. He spoke about the actions the federal government has been taking to assist Lebanon, such as announcing $30 million in humanitarian and recovery aid.

“To be clear, all the support from the federal government is going to trusted humanitarian organizations and not directly to the government of Lebanon,” said McGuinty, alluding to concerns of political corruption in Lebanon.

Coincidentally, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, François-Philippe Champagne, arrived that same day in Beirut to tour aid efforts as part of his first overseas trip since the pandemic began. As well, Canada recently appointed career diplomat Chantal Chastenay as its new ambassador to Lebanon.

McGuinty also assured the crowd that "Canada remains at the ready. We’re ready to provide additional assistance.”

In case anyone is wondering, cheek kissing, embracing and handshaking were a big no-no that night, replaced with some friendly elbow bumps.

“I want to hug you, but it’s so wrong,” Meera Dilawri was overheard telling Liza Mrak, executive vice-president of Mark Motors Group, as they greeted one another sans physical contact.

Guests did come equipped with masks, but their use was understandably short-lived after the coverings got in the way of eating, drinking and talking.

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From left, Liberal MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South) greets guest Dan Saikaley (CIBC Wood Gundy) with a friendly elbow bump at the Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser held in Ottawa on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Tanya Ziadeh, wife of Lebanon’s ambassador to Canada, with co-host Majida Saikaley at her family’s Ottawa home for a private benefit to help the people of Lebanon rebuild their lives following the massive explosion that recently tore through Beirut. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Sandra Assaly and her husband Stephen Assaly (Richmond Heights Apartments) at the Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser held in Ottawa on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Pawan Dilawri (Dilawri Auto Group) with his wife, Meera, at the Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser held in Ottawa on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Dennis Laurin (Laurin Group) with entrepreneur Eli Tannis at the Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser held in Ottawa on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Aik Aliferis (Marcus & Millichap) with his partner, Samar Saab, at the Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser held in Ottawa on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Lucy Ibrahim and her daughter, television personality Jasmin Ibrahim from CTV Morning Live, at the Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser held in Ottawa on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Francis Pomerleau, of construction firm Pomerleau, and his wife, Sophie Dagenais, at the Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser held in Ottawa on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Michael Mrak (Mark Motors Group) with host Charlie Saikaley, Aik Aliferis (Marcus & Millichap) and Goldy Singh (Econo Petroleum) at the Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser held in Ottawa on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Dan Saikaley (CIBC Wood Gundy) with co-host Majida Saikaley, Tamer Abaza (Smart Living Properties) and Ottawa lawyer Danny Fernandes at the Lebanon Disaster Relief Fundraiser held in Ottawa on Wednesday, August 26, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips

caroline@obj.ca