When did you move to Canada? & why did you move to Canada? How was your life like in your country of origin before you moved to Canada?
We moved to Canada on November 2, 2016, it was late at night, and it was very cold. We used to live in Damascus, Syria and when the war broke out, we moved to Turkey, where we lived for four years. When we moved to Turkey, we were lucky Sheren Hasan (my wife and mother of this family) had a sister where we stayed. Mohammed and his brother found a job to support the family while learning Kurdish to bridge the communication barrier in Turkey. It was a long struggle to adjust in a new environment for survival. The boys were working long hours for little pay and everything was very expensive. We were sponsored by the Portage and Area Refugee Coalition to resettle in Canada in Portage la Prairie and here we are.
What was your first impression when you arrived in Canada?
It was really cold and confusing in Toronto when we arrived, we did not know anyone then. When we reached Winnipeg, it was still very cold but not as confusing as Toronto, because we knew some people from the coalition who sponsored us to come to Canada. Nevertheless, it was still confusing for the whole family, no one spoke or understood Arabic except for Mustafa our interpreter who helped us with our communication barrier. Also, when we arrived, we were very exhausted, we had traveled for twenty-four hours from Turkey to Berlin; Berlin to Toronto; and Toronto to Winnipeg. Then, we took a one-hour and a half bus to Portage la Prairie.
What were some of the challenges you faced when you moved here?
Family Separation: When we moved to Turkey, we were all together but, when we came to Canada, we left our son, his wife, and children and our daughter who is married behind in Turkey. We all used to live together in Damascus in the same home even, in Turkey. When we came to Canada, we are only the parents, one son, and two daughters. We miss our other children and grandchildren.
Mohammed: We need our brother here. My parents are always calling my siblings (my brother and sister) in Turkey to talk to them and their grandchildren. We sometimes feel lonely without our older siblings especially my brother. I always had my brother to run to for support and advice but he is not here. He is also lonely without us. My brother and I used to work and do things together but, now things are different.
Cultural Difference: Our culture may be difficult to understand. Back home in Syria, we were a very close-knit family, we lived together, and we (men and boys) took care of the family. When a daughter gets married, she goes to live with her husband and his family.
Language Barrier: This was a problem but it is getting better now as my sisters and I are learning English. There are not so many Arabic speakers in Portage la Prairie but, we have a few friends from Syria and we also have the support of Don Boddy and some of the people from the coalition.
Job Opportunities: Find work is hard, Mohammed found some work but Dad has not yet due to age and ailment.
Was there any support from the community to help you integrate? If yes, what were they? If not, how did you survive?
The coalition that sponsored us especially Don and Robin Young have been helping us most. Robin Young works for the provincial government and is part of the coalition together with Don and often check on us and help us. There has been a lot of people who have helped us, Tirzah Maendel, our neighbour, Sheri Blaylock, Miriam Turyamwijuka from the Portage Learning and Literacy Centre, and the neighbors are amazing.
What do you miss most from your country of origin?
Before we were missing everything, the house, people but now, the house is gone, all our property in Syria is destroyed, and so many people have been killed.
Since coming to Canada, have you visited your country of origin? What was your first impression of going back? How did it feel?
Mohammed: We have not and we cannot go back to Syria at the moment. But, it would be good for the parents to go to Turkey to see the children they left behind.
What was your occupation in your country of origin and what is your occupation here in Canada? What have you accomplished so far and aim to in the future?
Dad: I was a hydraulic mechanic and now, I am still looking for a job and hoping to find one soon.
Mohammed: My brother and I were Masonries and, now I am a welder at Hi-Tech Industries. I am planning on enrolling to Red River College for a masonry course and Hana wants to be an Interior Designer.
What steps did you take to achieve the occupation you are currently in or previously held before you retired?
Mohammed: the first job I had was a temporary job working at the high school where I was attending. The gentleman I was working with at the high school had a masonry company so, he offered me a contract job and as soon as my contract ended, my neighbour found me the next job until I went back to school. After I completed school I applied to Hi-Tech Industries and that is where I am working now. My mother and father work at the MCC-thrift store once a week and one of my sister works at McDonalds. At the moment, we are working on getting Dad a job in construction.
How has your life changed since moving here?
Mohammed: For my parents, it has been very hard; life changed; people changed; the weather changed, and we ourselves have changed – our lifestyle has changed.
Hana: It is so quiet here something we are trying to get used to. I have a job which is all new because I never worked in Syria before. My sister and I are learning to be independent.
Mohammed: My sisters are learning to be more independent and I am becoming more responsible for the family than I was before. Back in Syria and in Turkey, my brother and I used to just work and give the money to our parents but now, I have to take care of them. I carry my phone everywhere and I had to explain to my boss to make him understand why I have to have my phone with me all the time. I have to always be thinking of my parents and in case there is an emergency with my parents, I have rush home and take care of them or interpret for them at the hospital.
What advice would you give to newcomers in Canada?
- Learn English if you already do not it.
- Look for a part-time job or volunteer opportunities to connect you with people, this will help you with your English, and you will not be isolated.
What advice would you give to people back in your country?
It is hard especially when you have a mother here crying for her children she left behind and not knowing when she will ever see them but, we give them hope that we will see them and be together soon.