St. Kevin’s refugee project yields fruit
Rana Bshara said it wasn’t easy to leave her homeland of Syria.
“We have all our memories there,” said Bshara, sitting in her new First Avenue home last week alongside her husband Antoun Maalouf, seven-year-old daughter Soleil and six-year-old son Ghassan.
The family arrived as refugees to Canada fleeing the ongoing civil war in their native Syria on Monday. After a year spent in Lebanon they received sponsorship from the Diocese of St. Catharines through St. Kevins Catholic Church.
“We took this decision very late,” said Bshara, recalling how the family held onto hope for their country for four years of war in the town of Jaramana near Damascus.
“Our children were grown in dangerous conditions,” she said, recalling how explosions rocked the street in front of the family home, throwing debris into the house. Her workplace, the Syrian Air France office, also experienced the violence of war.
It wasn’t an easy decision she said, to leave Syria, but eventually the prospect of peace just seemed too far off.
“Finally we lost maybe the hope,” she said, noting the couple left behind their jobs and their families, including parents to start a new life elsewhere.
“We had to make the decision for our children,” said Bshara, whose husband was a licensed electrician back home. Even the time in Lebanon, with no jobs or support, wasn’t easy. She explained the options were to wait on refugee status in Canada or try to enter the European Union through dangerous travel through Turkey or across the Mediterranean.
The family waited and eventually was sponsored by the Welland church. Now that they have arrived, living in a home rented by the church fro the next year, they plan to start a new life.
“In Canada we have a better future,” said Bshara, who along with her family was reunited with Antoun’s sister Mirna who has been living in Canada for a year.
“It was so cool to see a family reunited,” said Paul Turner, a member of the church’s sponsorship committee that was on hand at the airport to welcome the family. He recalled Mirna did not move or take her gaze off the gate as she waited hours for her family to arrive.
The church first began efforts to sponsors a refugee family in November 2015 when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the country would accept 25,000 refugees by the end of the year. Initially the church had planned on sponsoring two families but when initial connections fell through the Maalouf family was sponsored.
“It’s our desire to help,” said Turner, adding, “it’s just so gratifying.”
He explained the church raised $50,000 to carry the family through their first year in Canada and is working to connect the parents with English as a second language instruction. Rana already speaks French and Arabic and has complete fluency in English as her number one goal.
“I’m so excited, I have many dreams,” said Bshara, adding the family plans to spend its future here in Canada. Maybe one day she said they will visit Syria again.
“I don’t know if one day our country will get better,” said Bshara, who hopes both she and her husband can find work to move the family forward. Antoun hopes he can get his Canadian ticket as an electrician.
“He has to study,” said Bshara, adding the family already feels welcomed by the community, having met many of the church members who helped them arrive at this point.
“They are the nicest people, they are like family to us,” she said. “We are lucky to have them.”
Photo credit: Steve Henschel/Staff Photo. Refugee family settling into new life in Welland
Captions: Rana Bshara and Antoun Maalouf arrived in Canada as refugees from Syria last Monday with seven-year-old daughter Soleil and six-year-old son Ghassan through a sponsorship spearheaded by St. Kevins Catholic Church settling into a family home on First Avenue to pursue a new life. Amongst the family’s passions is music, Soleil plays the piano and Maalouf the oud.