Arabic interpreters say they're proud of Saint John

Young interpreters working with Syrian families say they've never been more proud of the city they've adopted as their home. It's a strong endorsement of Saint John, by Arabic speakers who have daily contact with refugees.

Interpreters assure Syrian refugees they've come to a good place

Masad Alsharari, a UNBSJ student, says his phone hasn't stopped ringing for his help as an interpreter for Syrian refugees. (CBC)

Young interpreters working with Syrian families say they've never been more proud of the city they've adopted as their home.

It's a strong endorsement of Saint John, by Arabic speakers who have daily contact with refugees.

"I tell them they'll be fine. They'll be comfortable," says Masad Alsharari, who assures the families they're in a good place.

The 28-year-old Saudi student is about to complete his business degree at UNBSJ, but he still finds time to volunteer when translation is required.

 'That made me love [Saint John], more and more.'- Sarah Shuait, Arabic interpreter

His phone never stops ringing. He says the early days of arrivals back in December were the most frantic.

Any Arabic speakers who went to the hotel where the Syrians first landed in Saint John were bombarded with anxious questions, he says.

But he also remembers how the mood changed to happy surprise when families were moved into apartments.

"Yep they really feel [the goodwill]," he said. "And some of them, when they got their house, they are crying actually."

Sarah Shuait is one of 29 Arabic speakers on the Saint John interpreter's list. (CBC)
The YMCA Newcomers program has 29 Arabic speakers on its interpreter list, including 25-year-old Sarah Shuait, a Jordanian citizen, who came to Canada in 2012.

At first she offered her time for free, and then the YMCA gave her a job, interpreting in schools where some 150 Syrian students have now been placed.

"The Syrian project changed my life and how I see Saint John," she said. "I saw Canadians in front of my eyes, assisting with all that they had, communicating with hand signs and small words. Some of the [Syrian] families, they didn't expect that."

"It was amazing."

Shuait said she also found herself talking about the city in a positive light to calm and comfort people who knew nothing about it.

"And that made me love it, more and more," she said.

Shuait says it's rewarding as well to see that some students have adjusted so well to classes, they missed school over March Break.

"They were anxious to start again," she said.

 'Welcome to Canada'

One of the youngest interpreters on the Y list is Muhammad Al-Jumaili.

At 20-years-old, he is an Iraqi refugee, who was forced to flee Baghdad for Syria.

He recognizes now how odd that must sound; a refugee seeking safe haven in Syria.

But he says he'll never forget the warm Syrian welcome he received when he arrived and the happy years he spent there, finishing high school.

He says this is his chance to return the kindness.

"I know what they feel. I lived with them," he said. "So, maybe I should pay back. I should pay off my loan. So I will try to pay off my loan and more."

20-year-old Muhammad Al-Jumaili loves to be the first person to say 'Welcome to Canada' to refugees arriving at the Saint John Airport. (CBC)
Al-Jumaili says word is spreading that Saint John is a gentle and affordable place.

He says he knows of three or four Syrian families first assigned to other cities in Canada, that have picked up and moved to the Port City.

Al-Jumaili says the effort on the ground is organized and competent and most needs are being met.

Although he points out, there's always demand for more interpreters.

For example, he said not many Arabic speakers are willing to go to the Saint John Airport in the middle of the night.

But Al-Jumaili doesn't mind. He says he's the first to raise his hand when the flights come in at one o'clock in the morning.

It's a trip he's made in the wee hours half a dozen times.

He says he loves to be that guy who says, "welcome to Canada", in Arabic.

With 120 more Syrians expected in Saint John, on top of the 380 already in the city, chances are, those late night welcomes aren't done.

About the Author

Rachel Cave

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.


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