A year ago, they were refugees arriving in Canada, hoping to be welcomed to a new country far from home. Today, this group of Syrian children shared songs about hope and peace in the House of Commons.
CultureLink's Nai Syrian Children's Choir performed a midday show on Parliament Hill on Thursday, as a thank you to the country that has given them a second chance. Its members also hope that their message of peace travels back to Syria and will be heard around the world.
Chorister Aaya Mahmoud wanted Canadians to know how her young life has been changed since coming to Canada.
After leaving war-torn Syria, "Canada's beautiful and the people here [are] very nice to us," she said.
"I feel happy because I'm with my friends here and I'm singing."
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Married musicians Esmaeel Abofakher and Rahaf Alakbani — also recent refugees from Syria — help support the choir and perform with them. Abofakher also wrote one of the three songs the choir is set to perform.
"We are singing for peace everywhere — every place in the world — and I feel that it's a very good point to thank Canada for what they did [for] us," he told CBC News on Wednesday, while en route to Ottawa.
The choir was founded by Fei Tang, a project consultant for the Toronto settlement agency CultureLink, who also enlisted local music educators to help.
Now, while their parents take English language lessons, the children assemble to learn about music every Wednesday at CultureLink's offices in Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood.
The music gives the young participants confidence, helps them learn English and allows them to express difficult emotions, according to Tang.
"Some of them are very aware what's happening [in Syria] and we have quite a few families… from Aleppo. They have cousins, they have family members still there, so it's very sad," she explained.
"They don't worry about a lot of things when they are singing."
While the 26-person choir — whose members range in age from six to 13 — have performed before, including at the Luminato Festival and Toronto's Koerner Hall, they were most excited about singing in Ottawa and seeing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
For musician and choir co-founder Abofakher, going to Canada's capital to perform was an important way to express gratitude.
"I'm so glad to be here. Me and my wife, we feel that we have to [be] giving back to our community now," he said.
"They give us a second chance at life here in Canada."