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Citizenship becomes icing on the cake for Vancouver Island Syrian refugee family

New life for Crofton residents continues to emerge with each experience
The Kaiyalis are one happy family to have received their Canadian citizenship. (Photo by Don Bodger)

It’s been a long road for the Kaiyali family, but they’re happy to have reached their desired goal.

Members of the Crofton family who came to Canada as part of the Syrian refugee program on Feb. 16, 2016 officially became Canadian citizens in a Zoom celebration last Thursday, Oct. 28, more than five and a half years later.

Friends and supporters who helped bring them to Canada gathered at their Crofton residence to mark the occasion.

Zaki and wife Muzna Albaik had two children when they arrived in Canada: Rama Kaiyali, now 16, and Farouq Kaiyali, 11. Twins Fouad and Haya have since been additions to the family, born in Canada in 2019.

The Kaiyali family was joined by several others for the citizenship ceremony on Zoom originating from Vancouver.

“I’m very happy,” said Zaki, 42. “I feel like an important person now. To us, it was my dream to come to Canada and now I’m in Canada and Canadian.”

Back in the fall of 2015, a group of five Cowichan Valley citizens that included Nancy Bright of Chemainus, Dan and Ilona Vaillancourt, Barb Kruger and Mary-Ellen Deuling decided to become a sponsorship group guided by the Cowichan Intercultural Society and also supported by many other individuals and groups.

The Rashid family that came from Syria to Duncan almost 25 years earlier and since resettled in Victoria, proposed these young relatives of theirs who were eager to escape the war and uncertainty of Lebanon and wanted to come to Canada for a new life. It took months of filling out forms, fundraising and simply waiting before the Kaiyali family finally arrived.

The Kaiyali family arrived at the Victoria International Airport at midnight on Feb. 17, 2016 and escorted to their first Canadian home in Maple Bay the next day.

They later lived in Cowichan Bay and moved to a new place in Crofton nearly a year ago in November of 2020.

Life in Canada has proven to have expected challenges in finding employment, housing, schooling and learning English, but they’ve all done very well in making the transition.

Zaki’s years of experience as a woodworker led him into the carpentry field and he currently has a growing business, Dream House Kitchen and Interiors, located on Boys Road in Duncan.

“I have good support from customers,” he said.

Rama attended International School in her home country and already had spoke English.

“When I first came here, it’s like a whole new world,” said Rama.

They originally landed in Montreal and “I thought it was going to be like that,” she conceded.

With Rama’s command of English, “I was interpreting for them,” she said.

They have since learned to speak English very well. Muzna is also now able to drive family members to jobs and appointments.

“It feels so exciting, a little different,” said Muzna. “When we came to Canada, we didn’t know English. We start from zero.”

Farouq is in Grade 6 at Crofton Elementary School and plays soccer with a community team in Duncan.

Rama is a year ahead in her schooling and will graduate in 2022 from Grade 12 at Frances Kelsey Secondary School in Mill Bay. She currently has a part-time job at McDonald’s in Duncan and usually works long hours on weekends.

“I am glad I got my citizenship,” Rama said. “I want to be able to travel around. I want to be known as a Syrian citizen and a Canadian citizen.”

Rama has plans to attend Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, starting next September, and work towards a Bachelor of Science degree and specialize in optometry.

The family is grateful to its sponsors, who continue their involvement with them. Others who played key roles for them include: Michelle Redfern, their settlement worker; Dr. Dustin George, their dentist at the Valleyview Centre; Dr. Rachael Martin, their physician and maternity doctor; Greg Zachernuk, Zaki’s business associate who shared his first real shop with him, and so many others in the community who have made them feel welcome.

The citizenship ceremony was an especially proud moment for the original group of five.

“We came together through CIS and we didn’t know one another or really knew them through some association,” said Bright. “Lots of people helped out.

“It’s a real pleasure to have this experience. I’m glad we shared it like this rather than them having to do it themselves in front of a screen.”

RELATED: Syrian family supported by Chemainus group settling into new life

The Kaiyali family the day after they arrived in the Cowichan Valley in February, 2016. Two children have since been born in Canada. (Photo submitted)
Zaki Kaiyali at work in his shop on Boys Road in Duncan. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Zaki Kaiyali is very skilled at woodworking and has his own shop on Boys Road in Duncan. (Photo submitted)
O Canada! The Kaiyali family of Crofton celebrates their Canadian citizenship. (Photo by Don Bodger)