Manitoba

Syrian boy with prosthetic leg takes 1st steps in Canada

Kamal Al Ziab knew his and his family's lives would forever be changed after leaving a refugee camp in Lebanon and arriving in Winnipeg, but the Syrian dad never thought he'd see his 12-year-old son Omar walk again. Then Al Ziab's dream came true.

Family grateful to Refuge Winnipeg, sees bright future with war behind them

Omar Al Ziab, now 12, was walking home from school when he came across military and rebel forces. A military vehicle targeted him and ran him over. He lost one leg and his other leg was mangled and scarred. 0:37

When Kamal Al Ziab and his family arrived in Winnipeg from a Lebanese refugee camp this fall, he knew their lives would forever be changed.

He never dreamt, however, that just three weeks later, he would see his son walk again. 
Syrian boy Omar Al Ziab, left, is overjoyed after walking again, thanks to a new prosthetic leg. Omar's family settled in Winnipeg after leaving a Lebanese refugee camp. (CBC)

"Of course I'm full of joy and thanks to God for bringing us people to help him and give him a leg," Al Ziab said in Arabic through translator Laila Chebib. 

Omar, 12, strapped on his new prosthetic leg and said: "[I am] flying with joy, flying with joy," he said, again through Chebib. "Exuberant."

Omar took his first steps last Thursday, less than a month after the family arrived in Winnipeg and more than four years since becoming a casualty of the war in Syria.

As Canada prepares to welcome some 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this year, the Al Ziab family's story is one of hope.

"Now he can walk like other people. What would [a] father be wanting more than the joy of seeing his child walk?" Kamal Al Ziab said.

'What would father be wanting more than (the) joy of seeing his son walk?"- Kamal Al Ziab, on son Omar's new prosthetic leg.

In 2011, Omar was walking home from school when he came across military and rebel forces. A military vehicle targeted him and ran him over. He lost one leg and his other leg was mangled and scarred.

The family found itself in a war zone, with bombs raining over their home and killing loved ones. The violence forced Kamal Al Ziab, a blacksmith, his wife Fatima and their children out of their home and schools, and across the border to a refugee camp in Lebanon.

For years, they huddled together in a one-room shack with other family members. Al Ziab wanted to work, but locals would not allow it. The children wanted to go to school, but they were denied the chance. Instead, they said, they lived on $18 a month, and were subject to racism, resentment and disdain from a country overburdened with refugees.
Omar Al Ziab, now 12, was maimed after he was targeted by military and rebel forces while walking home from school in war-ravaged Syria. (CBC)

That all changed when halfway around the world, Refuge Winnipeg was formed. A coalition of members from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities, Refuge Winnipeg spent close to two years raising the money and filing the paperwork to help sponsor the extended family to Canada.

Today, the family's new home is a modest townhouse in the Winnipeg neighbourhood of St. Norbert.

A small snowman — the kids' first effort — stands just outside their front door. Inside the home, baked date squares and hot tea are served to greet all guests. All the kids are now in school and are learning English.

Khalid, the oldest, wants to be a pharmacist. Mohammed wants to be a doctor. Aya has her sights on being a hairdresser.

But their greatest source of gratitude? Omar and his prosthetic leg, with the ugly legacy of war behind him and the optimism of peace ahead of him.

"Thanks to you all, thanks to [Refuge Winnipeg], thanks to Canada," Al Ziab said. "I love Canada."

For more on this story, tune into CBC Information Radio at 7:40 am, and tonight on CBC TV News At Six.

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