'We belong here now': Northern B.C.'s first Syrian refugee family looks back on 3 years in Prince George

Almost three years after arriving in Prince George, Northern B.C.'s first Syrian refugee is reflecting on the joys and sorrows of fleeing war and making a new home.

'People in Prince George helped us a lot, supported us a lot, and we want to say thank you'

Rose Tohme was a teacher in Syria before civil war forced her to take refuge in Prince George. Now, she's working as an educational assistant, helping Syrian students at this Prince George high school. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC)

Almost three years after arriving in Prince George, Northern B.C.'s first Syrian refugee is reflecting on the joys and sorrows of fleeing war and making a new home.

On a bitterly cold, snowy winter night in early January 2016, Syrian teacher Rose Tohme and her family landed at Prince George Airport.

A crowd bearing signs that read "Welcome Home" greeted them. Locals, including the mayor, offered hugs and handshakes.

Fast forward to late 2018: now, Tohme is an educational assistant helping Syrian students at a local high school, and she and her family will soon apply for citizenship.

"Hopefully, we will be Canadian citizens in 2019," Tohme said. "People in Prince George helped us a lot, supported us a lot, and we want to say thank you so much.

"Not just for my family. They helped all the Syrians."

In 2016, local people, including the mayor, welcomed Rose Tohme's family, the first Syrian refugees to arrive in the city. (Prince George Airport)

'We felt very welcomed'

Dorothy Friesen is a Prince George retiree who helped bring Tohme and her family to B.C.

She rallied online support for a refugee sponsorship in the city after being moved by the images of three-year-old Syrian migrant Alan Kurdi's body washed up on a beach.

"I still get emotional about it," Friesen said. "Quite frankly, I didn't know where Syria was when this all started. I had to look it up on a map."

Friesen was one of the people at the airport to welcome Tohme and her family almost three years ago .

"We felt very welcomed," Tohme said. "We were overwhelmed with the welcome. We are very thankful and grateful to God and to the people here."

Tohme said once she and her family become citizens, they want to find a way to give back to the community that they now call home.

"We belong here now."

Listen to Rose Tohme and Dorothy Friesen discuss the Tohmes' arrival in Prince George:

Almost three years after arriving in Prince George, Northern B.C.'s first Syrian refugee is reflecting on the joys and sorrows of fleeing war and making a new home. 4:27

Listen to Rose Tohme talk about her hope for the future:

Tohme said once she and her family become citizens, they want to find a way to give back to the community that they now call home. 3:06

With files from Betsy Trumpener and CBC Radio One's Radio West

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