As Canadians prepare to take in thousands of Syrian refugees who will arrive in this country over the next few months, one Toronto mother-daughter duo is doing more than their share: Over the next year, they will host a total of 43 newcomers in their Scarborough bungalow.
Christine Youssef and her mother, Sarah, raised $250,000 to sponsor the refugees, including five of her cousins, via their credit cards, a loan and a second mortgage on their home. The last time Youssef saw her cousins, who are between 20 and 28 years old, they were in Damascus and civil war hadn't yet broken out in Syria.
The Youssefs say hosting so many people is worth the financial strain. Last January, they decided they had seen enough of the violence in Syria and vowed to get as many family members to Canada, and to safety.
On Friday, the Youssefs were reunited with their cousins, and Christine tweeted a photo of the happy reunion under the headline "Our first picture together."
She also tweeted a video of them "enjoying their first breakfast as Canadians in Toronto."
My cousins are enjoying their first breakfast as Canadians in Toronto pic.twitter.com/w6QDQRMqlo— @cychristinecy
Leaving Syria has been difficult for the family, who survived multiple bombings before fleeing to Lebanon, Youssef said. Once in Beirut, they struggled to find work, she added.
"During the war they all lost their jobs, they couldn't attend school anymore," Christine told CBC News. "Their schools were bombed."
Her family members were living "day by day.
"A missile would hit the roof and they would thank God that nothing had happened to them," she said.
They applied for refugee status in January and learned Monday that they would be on the first government-arranged flight, she said.
"They cried when they left their family, for about two minutes," she said. Still, "they're excited, they're ready."
Five cousins arrived at Toronto's Pearson International Airport late Thursday night on a government-sponsored flight from Beirut that contained 163 refugees. They had fled to Lebanon when the violence hit too close to home.
'I'm definitely going to cry'
Christine, who used to summer with her cousins in Damascus, was due to be reunited with her family on Friday morning.
"I'm definitely going to cry, because I'm a big crybaby," she said. "It's going to be so exciting, definitely. I can't wait."
On Thursday, the Youssefs were preparing for the cousins' arrival. The nieces will stay in Christine's room and the nephews will stay in Sarah's room.
When the rest of the family members arrive, they will put mattresses wherever they can fit.
"It's okay," Christine says. "We're smiling through it all."
After the initial five, the Youssefs expect to have 24 family members in their home as early as Christmas.
"They haven't slept, and they're all smiling and ready to go," Christine said. "They can't wait to get here."
Their first full day in their new country will end on a typically Canadian note: a Raptors game in Toronto, added Youssef.
"I'm going to show them the Canadian way — I'm going to make them Canadian."