Two Syrian refugees who spent the last year learning English via Skype have finally arrived in Montreal where they will soon begin their studies at Concordia University.
Dunia Almehlm and Mohamad Sarhan were all smiles as they were greeted by dozens of people holding welcome signs and balloons at Montreal's Trudeau Airport Tuesday evening.
"It's difficult and it wasn't easy to say goodbye to my family, my friends, to everyone there, but I'm happy to start my new life here. I'm happy to start university," Sarhan said.
Almehlm, who lost her father in the Syrian civil war and fled to Turkey, echoed the excitement to start school and turn a new page.
"I'm of course happy. Finally, I am here," the 19-year-old said. "It's a first step for me."
The work of hundreds
Volunteers scrambled in the morning morning to get apartments ready for the two students.
Pillowcases were patched and curtain rods assembled. The kitchens were stocked, towels folded, furniture and appliances arranged in place.
And, of course, closets were packed with winter clothes.
The two students are being supported by the Syrian Kids Foundation, a charity with offices in Turkey and Montreal. They are scheduled to arrive tonight on a plane from Turkey.
"We want to take care of all the details so that all they have to focus on is their studies," said Faisal Alazem, the executive director of the foundation.
The students were accepted at Concordia after Alazem's foundation arranged for them to receive English lessons over the internet.
As the two arrived at the airport, Hazar Al-Mahayni, a volunteer with the foundation, said the moment was a culmination of hard work and support from many.
"Hundreds of people in Montreal and in Turkey worked for this moment, to create a new future and a new hope for these Syrian refugees who suffer a lot," she said.
"For me, it's a dream come true."
'Passports can come and go'
Students at Concordia and McGill universities gave Almehlm and Sarhan three to four hours of English lessons a week over Skype.
Both passed their English proficiency exams earlier this year.
Almehlm, originally from Homs, hopes to study cell and molecular biology as a stepping stone to becoming a doctor.
Sarhan, who left his hometown of Raqqa when ISIS took control, hopes to study computer engineering.
Concordia will pay their tuition, while the foundation will cover their living expenses.
"Passports can come and go," said Alazem. "Education is the passport that will take you around the world."