Guelph's Walaa Allaf makes Arabic videos to help fellow Syrian refugees adjust to Canada
Allaf said he was 'afraid' to speak English when he first arrived in Canada
Guelph's Walaa Allaf is on a mission to help fellow Syrians and Iraqis adjust to their new lives in Canada and he's doing it by making a series of videos.
"Because I am myself a former refugee, I came to Canada six years ago," Allaf said in an interview with CBC K-W The Morning Edition's Craig Norris on Thursday. "And I know [what] it's like to be a refugee with no clue about the life in here."
Allaf first visited Canada in 2007. He returned in 2008 to study office administration at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ont., and by then, Syria had descended into a bloody internal conflict so Allaf sought refugee status in order to stay here.
Instead of sitting at home thinking about my surgery and stuff, I decided to volunteer and help Syrian refugees,- Walaa Allaf
Recently, Allaf was working for a company in Guelph but had to take time off for a surgery. He's doing some part-time work now instead, but found himself with a lot of free time.
"Instead of sitting at home thinking about my surgery and stuff, I decided to volunteer and help Syrian refugees," he said.
Allaf did his first video with a cellphone and posted it on his Facebook page – where he quickly found that people responded to his message.
"I got 14,000 views on my Facebook page," Allaf said. He then decided to make a group called Shokran Canada, which translates from Arabic to "Thank You, Canada," to make more videos in both English and Arabic.
One of the videos shows Ahmad Alhelal, a Syrian man who has been living in Guelph for the past six months or so, reuniting with his brother Mahdi at Toronto Pearson International Airport. The brothers hadn't seen each other in four years.
The video starts with an Arabic introduction, and then includes cellphone video of Ahmad showing off supplies gathered by local Guelph residents to help the Syrian refugees who will be arriving the Ontario city.
Then it shows Ahmad and Mahdi's emotional reunion at the airport.
Allaf said he made the video, with the help of videographer Blair Cameron, to show the generosity of Canadians. Several churches in Guelph, including the Dublin St. United Church and a group of families called Syria to Guelph helped sponsor Mahdi Alhelal.
Guides to grocery shopping, passing a driving test
Allaf's other videos so far include a thank you to Canada for welcoming Syrians and a video on why people may be experiencing delays in applications to come to Canada.
The next subjects he wants to tackle include instructions on how to pass a G2 driving test, how to open a bank account and how to get a health card.
"It can be as simple as how to do groceries," Allaf said, noting he wants to explain concepts like price-matching.
Above all, Allaf wants to encourage other Syrians to embrace life here.
"Don't be afraid to speak with Canadians and be open," Allaf said of his advice to refugees.
"To be honest, when I first came I was afraid," Allaf said, admitting he was a bit of an introvert then. "And then I met someone at the coffee shop and he started pushing me to speak actually. So from that day I ... had more confidence to speak with Canadians and find how friendly they are."