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Young Syrians full of hope, optimism as they settle in Calgary

Young Syrian refugees are settling into Calgary's cold, harsh climate but they're full of hope for the future. They're taking English classes, learning about Canadian culture, the job market and how to get settled into their new city.

"Maybe I can get my chance, my opportunity, that's why I am happy," says 26 year old newcomer

Young Syrian refugees are settling into Calgary's cold, harsh climate but they're full of hope for the future. They're taking English classes, learning about Canadian culture, the job market and how to get settled into their new city. 1:07

It has been a year since Canada started getting an unprecedented influx of Syrian refugees, with more than 2,000 settling in Calgary. This is the fifth and final part in a series looking at how those refugees are doing a year in, and the effects of that influx on support agencies.


They don't like the cold weather in Calgary.

But many young Syrian refugees who've come to Canada in the past year are full of optimism as they settle into a new community, learn a new language, culture and climate and prepare to continue with their studies or try to land their first job. 

On Jan. 5, Asmaa Almoubayed will mark her first year anniversary in Canada. She says she will never forget what her sponsor said when she arrived in Calgary. 

"The first thing they say to me when I arrive here is, 'Welcome to your home,'" said Asmaa Almoubayed.  

Asmaa Almoubayed, 28, arrived in Calgary last January. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

The 28-year-old former teacher from Damascus is making strides with her English and gaining valuable work experience at Momentum, a non-profit organization in southeast Calgary.

She's working there six hours a day, helping low income earners get out of poverty.

"Whatever I can learn and have more skills, whatever the field is available, I will do it," said Almoubayed.

Education focus

"Most people support me, maybe I can get my chance, my opportunity, that's why I am happy," said Basel Skeik, a young Syrian who arrived in Calgary from Damascus in October.  

"I am feeling peaceful, I am feeling great with people here, because they don't make me feel like a refugee," he said.

Basel Skeik, 26, arrived in Calgary as a refugee from Syria in October. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Skeik, 26, graduated with a degree in finance and is hoping to get his master's degree at the University of Calgary.

"I'm looking for a job, I think I will find," said Mariam Abouakel, 24, also from Damascus.

Mariam Abouakel, 24, is from Damascus. She arrived in Calgary in late October. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

She has a background in the pharmacy industry and hopes that her passion and energy will convince an employer to hire her.

"If I am energetic and improve myself in the company, they will hire me," she said.

New experiences

"It's been quite an adjustment," said Abdallah Alshahrour, 24. "I've adapted to this new life, new weather, new people."

He says in Calgary there are so many different people from different backgrounds and so many different rules and laws.

Abdallah Alshahrour, 24, is from Damascus. He hopes to return the generosity that Canadians have shown him since his arrival in Calgary at the beginning of the year. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Alshahrour jokes about how he had endless questions after his arrival at the start of the year.

"When I first came here, I started to ask about everything. What is that? What is this? What does that mean? What is Walmart?  

He studied the banking and insurance industries in university in Damascus and graduated last year with a degree in economics. 

He hopes to find work in his field but knows it's going to be tough in a city that's going through one of its worst downturns in a generation.

"Wherever I go, everyone is laid off or losing their jobs, so that's discouraging sometimes."

Generosity of Canadians 

His face brightens up when he talks about the generosity of Canadians, who've welcomed more than 36,000 refugees from Syria as of Dec. 4.  

"We hope that someday we can return some of those favours somehow, I really thank them all, they're all nice, nice perfect people," he said. 

The Centre for Newcomers recently hosted a workshop put on by the federal government.

The goal was to get input from Syrians refugees aged 15-30 on the types of programs that will be needed to ensure they settle successfully, integrate into the community and find employment.

"It's always important to have the community voice," said Anila Lee Yuen, the CEO of the centre. "So everything that we're doing is relevant to the youth."

Anila Lee Yuen is the CEO of the Centre for Newcomers in northeast Calgary. (Bryan Labby )

Asmaa Almoubayed attended the workshop. She says the biggest challenge for the nearly 4,500 Syrians who've arrived in Alberta this year is language training.

She says the next priority is to start a new career or resume their previous ones. 

She would like to work as a teacher, but doesn't have access to her transcripts to prove her qualifications.

"Now, I think administration is a very good fit for me," said Almoubayed.

As her first anniversary approaches, the financial support she receives from her sponsor will run out.

"We have to be more patient, it will come," she said.

She adds, finding a job is just yet another challenge for many refugees who already feel they've succeeded simply by making it to Canada.