Edmonton·Video

Syrian refugees share piece of home with Edmonton

Refugee sponsors in Edmonton have been teaching Syrian families the Canadian way of life for months. On Friday night, it was their turn to learn more about Syria.

Refugee families and their sponsors celebrated with a night of Arabic food, music and dance on Friday

Refugees and their sponsors met for a night of Arabic food, music, and dance at the Druze Association of Edmonton on Friday. 1:26

Refugee sponsors in Edmonton have been showing Syrian families the Canadian way of life for months now. On Friday night, it was their turn to learn more about Syria.

Refugees and their sponsors met for a night of Arabic food, music, and dance at the Druze Association of Edmonton. The celebration was months in the making, and for many, it doubled as a first meeting.

"It is absolutely the first time and it's a pleasure and an honor to meet them," said Marilyn Hindmarch, who helps sponsor a Syrian family that came to Canada in November 2015.

"We've waited this long to meet them and they're just so brave to have come all this distance and to be resettling and to be starting a new life."

Hindmarch's sponsor family includes 12-year-old Maya Mashah, who came to Canada with her mother and siblings. Mashah's father died in the Syrian conflict.

The young refugee addressed the crowd in Arabic and English during the celebration.

"My dream has become a reality," she said. "I love Canada and the people here have become my family. When I arrive, I saw things I have never seen before. I met good people who are warm and welcoming.

"My dad passed away in the war and while I would love for him to be with us here in our new home, I am looking forward to a bright future in Canada. I thank you from the bottom of my heart."
Syrian refugees taught their sponsors a traditional Arabic circle dance at a celebration to welcome them to Edmonton on Friday. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Mashah said her transition to Canada has been both easy and difficult. She can play soccer again, and said she feels safe most of the time. But the 12-year-old, who acts as an interpreter for her family, said English has been difficult to learn and she often misses Syria.

"Canada is my second home," she said.

Mashah met many other young Syrians at the celebration, but said she also made friends with Canadian children there. She taught them a traditional Arabic circle dance at the end of the night.

Ehsan Johaim also joined the dance, holding the hands of people on either side and stomping his feet to the rhythm. He said it felt good to see so many people smiling.

"I'm so happy for them to find this party," Johaim said. "I will not say to forget their families or their country, but to feel more better than before."
Maya Mashah, 12, cried when she told the crowd about her life in Syria before publicly thanking her sponsors for a warm welcome to Canada. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Johaim is a Syrian refugee who came to Canada after spending two years in Lebanon. He says most of his family is still trapped in Syria, and he worries about them every day. Friday's celebration helped him put aside some of that anxiety for a few hours.

"We think all the time about our families, and our country, the children that are being killed in our country, all of them. But if we keep sad all the time we can't live. We have to smile sometimes," he said.

"If you're feeling from inside sad or terrible or something like this, you have to smile. You can't live without a smile."

If you're feeling from inside sad or terrible or something like this, you have to smile. You can't live without a smile.- Ehsan   Johaim, Syrian refugee

Johaim said he's grateful to his sponsors, and to the Canadian government for allowing him to come to Canada. The 27-year-old is now a student at NorQuest College.

Planes carrying Syrian refugees started landing in Edmonton almost half a year ago, and the months since have been filled with paperwork and bureaucracy. Friday's event was meant to be "just for fun," said Bob Aloneissi, one of the organizers. 

"The people that have come over from Syria have had a really tough road and have been through a lot of misery," he said. "So we figured that once they've had a chance to settle into their new country we get a chance to celebrate with them their arrival to their new country."

A sponsor who asked to remain anonymous paid for the entire event, which fed more than 200 people. The man immigrated to Canada years ago, and wanted Syrian refugees to know they're welcome in Edmonton.

@ZoeHTodd