Huda Nassar

Refugees settle into Campbell River living

It’s been two months since five Syrian refugees arrived in Campbell River to escape their war-torn country.

Since then, they have been settling in, going to school and finding employment.

The five, who are BaBa Gannouj co-owner Merell Awad’s mother, Samira Mitias, Awad’s sister, Huda Nassar, her husband, Madi Barhoum, and their two teenage sons, Elias, 17 and Lion, 14, have been in Campbell River since June 7.

Awad says they’ve been welcomed by the community with open arms.

“The neighbours (where Nassar and Barhoum are renting) were so welcoming, they came by with big baskets with gift cards and things like that,” says Awad. “And a lot of people have been coming into the restaurant with welcoming gifts. There was a big package of tea for my mom (who is living with Awad and her husband Fouad) and someone came in with a really nice frame.”

A kids community service group also stopped by to drop off hand-made paper origami for Elias and Lion, who have already started their schooling.

Nassar says her boys have taken some summer school courses and they’re looking forward to starting school in the fall.

Her husband, Madi, has also been keeping busy.

“Madi is already working, he found seasonal employment as a diesel mechanic,” Awad says. “He’s very happy to be working. He was anxious to work.”

In between work, the family has taken time out to attend a couple of community festivals, the Farmer’s Market, the Filberg Festival in the Comox Valley, and they’ve even been to McIvor Lake.

“It’s been awesome,” says Awad, who tried for two-and-a-half years to get her family out of volatile Syria.

With the help of Campbell River’s Syrian Refugee Committee, and the Anglican Church, which sponsored Awad’s family, the five Syrians arrived in Canada a little more than two months ago.

It’s a moment that Awad won’t soon forget.

As the official sponsor, Awad travelled to Vancouver to meet her family as they arrived at the airport (YVR).

“I was in shock, waiting for them to come through the doors,” Awad says. “‘I was thinking, are they really going to going be here?’”

When she finally spotted her nephew, pushing her mom in her wheelchair, she was in disbelief and all of her emotions came crashing down.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Awad says. “I started crying. It was just bawling eyes. I couldn’t believe they were here.”

Awad and her family then got on a plane to Campbell River.

Waiting with anticipation at the Campbell River Airport were several members of the Syrian Refugee Committee who were eager to see for the first time the people they had worked so hard to bring here.

Mary Cook, one of the founding members of the committee, said they were waving flags in the air, and getting impatient as the plane’s arrival time kept changing.

“We were getting kind of rowdy at the airport and we told the staff that the Syrian refugees were coming. The guy at the airport just said, ‘never mind, be as loud as you want. We should all be celebrating,’” Cook said. “It was pretty cool to be a part of something that was happening all across Canada, in different communities, in different ways.”

Awad says her reunion was made possible by the support of the committee which raised more than $90,000, as well as residents of Quadra Island who raised around $11,000 and local businesses who made donations to help the families get started.

Dogwood Pet Mart provided dog food, treats and a leash for Nassar’s family pet while Merecroft Veterinary Clinic stepped in to provide a free check up for the dog.

Spokes provided Elias and Lion with bicycles.

“I want to say thank you to the committee for the help, and the community as well,” says Nassar, who is happy to be in Campbell River.

“We want to thank everyone for all the help they provided,” Awad adds.

To stay up-to-date on ongoing fundraisers for both the family members now in Campbell River and the five others, including Awad’s middle sister and her two daughters, who are still in Syria waiting to come to Campbell River, visit the Campbell River Syrian Refugee Support Committee Facebook page.