Amid the pain and isolation of COVID-19, Rania Hassen and Mansour Manna defied the odds. They met, fell in love and got married.
The two came to Canada from different parts of the world, and they met at Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre when they answered the government’s call for help in long-term care at the height of the pandemic.
And there, during a period marked by tragedy and upheaval, they found one another.
While screening staff one day in his role as a COVID agent, Mr. Manna noticed an attractive woman entering the building. “Afterward, I ran over to the list where she had signed in and saw her name was Rania,” he recalls. He waited for an opportunity to speak with her until, one day, she entered the building at the start of her shift and came through his screening station.
Ms. Hassen and Mr. Manna got to talking—they discovered they both spoke Arabic—and began to share their personal stories. Mr. Manna had come to Canada just over three years earlier from Sudan, while Ms. Hassen had immigrated to Canada from Tunisia in 2013.
“I offered her a ride to the Metro after work,” Mr. Manna says, but he ended up driving her home instead. “We sat and talked in the car for a long time.”
Ms. Hassen, who was also working as a COVID agent, enjoyed the conversations with her co-worker, though she was taken aback by the turn that one of their talks took. “Two weeks after we met, he asked whether I would marry him,” she remembers. “I wasn’t ready for that.”
But Mr. Manna persisted, bringing up marriage repeatedly and even asking another COVID agent to try and convince her. Not long afterward, his wish came true.
“He won me over within a month,” Ms. Hassen says. “I was madly in love with him.”
Describing her groom as “an honest, kind gentleman,” Ms. Hassen says being in love brings her a sense of peace. For his part, Mr. Manna says his new wife is like no other woman he’s ever met, and he praises her qualities. “She’s honest—it makes me feel safe,” he explains. “She’s also very pretty.”
The two were introduced to each other’s friends and family in Tunisia and Sudan over the phone and they received blessings from afar.
Planning a wedding during a pandemic presented its own set of challenges, but the couple didn’t let that stop them. They were married on April 17 in an intimate service before a notary, with no party or gatherings. “We went shopping together the day before for my dress and his suit,” the bride says. “I got dressed alone—I didn’t even have anyone to help me zip up my dress.”
As they settle into married life and set up their home together in a new condominium, the newlyweds have a lot to look forward to. They plan to eventually celebrate their nuptials with friends and family, and go on a honeymoon in Mexico as soon as public-health guidelines permit.
They also both continue working full time at Maimonides, ensuring the safety of staff and residents. In addition, both are studying: Ms. Hassen in early childhood education and Mr. Manna in computer engineering. But they say they still want to volunteer with the elderly.
Mr. Manna began his work at Donald Berman Maimonides as an assistant orderly (known by the French acronym, “PAB”) in the first wave of the pandemic, when he fed residents and interacted with them one on one. “I feel like they are my father or grandfather,” he says. “You get to know what they like and how to make them laugh–you connect with them emotionally.”
He carries on these same tasks on weekends as a volunteer between his full-time shifts as a COVID agent, a contribution that Maimonides Site Coordinator Jennifer Clarke says is greatly appreciated.
“Mansour’s joy for life and his kind heart are evident in the way he interacts with everyone he meets,” Ms. Clarke says. “Many Maimonides residents formed a bond with him as an assistant PAB, so much so that he continues to spend time with them as a volunteer in between his shift as a COVID agent. The residents that he cares for are always happy to see him and they greet him with smiles and claps. Mansour is an asset to our team.”
Ultimately, the couple’s love story sends a message about finding common humanity during the depths of a crisis. “The pandemic showed us that race, religion, wealth—none of it matters,” Ms. Hassen says. “The virus doesn’t discriminate. We are all human; all in the same boat. Being human is the most important.”
Her sentiments are echoed by Mr. Manna. “Even when it’s dark, there’s love and there’s light,” he says. “We will get through these hard times by loving each other and being kind to one another.”