Life for the Al Sahhar family of Syrian refugees sponsored by Temple Israel is very different from what it was on their arrival in Ottawa almost two years ago.
Recently, as Fidaa Al Sahhar served homemade basbousa, a traditional Middle Eastern sweet cake with coconut and syrup, she discussed the definition of the word “enthusiasm” with her friend and former ESL tutor Madeleine Whitfield, a volunteer with ELTOC (English Language Tutoring for the Ottawa Community).
Fidaa, the family’s mother, was telling Whitfield that her current ESL teacher at Graybridge Malkam’s LINC language program was “excited” about the class, and Whitfield was explaining that “enthusiastic” was the right word to describe Fidaa’s teacher.
“I hadn’t heard that word before,” said Fidaa, who is a good example of “enthusiastic” herself.
“She’s such a positive person and a pleasure to be with,” said Whitfield. “They’re a very special family.”
“The family is so independent now,” said Lori Rosove of the Temple Israel Social Action Committee. “They know that in February we will no longer be their sponsors, but we will still be their friends. Things are quite different than last time we spoke.”
A team of more than 30 Temple Israel volunteers had organized and amassed all of the family’s initial settlement requirements. Tasks were broken down into categories like clothing, furniture, translators, education resources, language classes and more. They had the entire apartment set up and stocked so the family could go from the airport to their new home on Meadowlands Drive when they arrived in February 2016.
Ziad, the father, is now working full time as a house painter. He’s got his driver’s license and now has a car. While Ziad had to stop taking English classes because of his long hours at work, “he gets excellent reviews” from his employer, according to Temple Israel volunteer Jordan Rosove who has stayed in touch with the employer.
Fidaa is now in level 4 ESL and her English is getting better every day. Whitfield is helping her navigate the school system because she wants to enrol at Algonquin College after she completes level 5. She is still considering what to study as she strengthens her English speaking and writing skills.
Son Tarek, almost 13, is in Grade 7 at Merivale High School, and seven-year-old son Mohammed is in Grade 2 at Carleton Heights Public School.
“The boys have lots of friends,” said Lori. “They have a busy social life, and they love their apartment and to visit with their friends.”
The Al Sahhars, who are Muslim, came to Canada through the Joint 12-month Assistance Support program because of their seven-year-old daughter Sendos’ serious health condition. It was devastating for the family when Sendos died in Ottawa in July 2016.
“Their strong religious beliefs have helped them,” said Lori, “but it was difficult for quite a while. They appreciate that having a car means they can go to the cemetery when they want.”
Just a few weeks after their arrival in Canada in 2016, Ziad spoke to the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin through a volunteer interpreter.
“We were amazed by how much people cared about us, and were doing everything to make us happy,” he said at the time. “Before [we arrived in Canada], we were worried and had so many concerns about our life. But when we got here, everything had been taken care of. We can breathe properly.”
Now that the Al Sahhars are well settled in Canada, they are looking forward to Fidaa’s brother, who is currently in Lebanon, joining them, thanks to a private sponsorship group based at Kehillat Beth Israel synagogue which is working on that.