Nova Scotia

Family of refugees from Somalia reunited in Nova Scotia after 3 years

A St. FX nursing student has been reunited with her two sisters and their children and thanks to fundraising efforts, the family is starting a new life in Antigonish, N.S.

St. FX nursing student Farhiyo Salah grew up in one of world's largest refugee camps

Farhiyo Salah is now in her third year studying nursing at St. FX. (CBC)

A nursing student from Somalia wept Thursday afternoon as she met her 18-month-old nephew for the first time at the gates of the Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

Farhiyo Salah, who is in her third year of nursing at St. Francis Xavier University, hadn't seen her family in three years. Community members who had gotten to know Salah since she arrived in Antigonish, N.S., fundraised about $40,000 to bring her two sisters and their five children to Canada. 

"The future is very bright for me and for them, and for the community who really worked so hard to see this day," Salah said. 

Salah was born amid the Somali Civil War. Her father was killed and when she was just eight-months-old, her mother fled with her and her siblings to Kenya.  

The family lived in Dadaab, one of the world's largest refugee camps, with hundreds of thousands of other people displaced by war, famine and droughts in the region.

Farhiyo Salah hadn't seen her sisters since leaving Kenya three years ago. It was her first time meeting her younger sister's son. (CBC)

Finding food, water and shelter was a struggle.  

"When you don't have something to drink, you don't think of even going to class. We really struggled to get to school," Salah said. "It's all about try your best and get whatever [is] available."

Despite the challenges, she never stopped trying to get an education. 

She earned a scholarship from the World University Service of Canada, a non-profit organization that sponsors refugees as they pursue post-secondary studies in Canada.  

But even as she settled into life in Nova Scotia, Salah never forgot about her loved ones in the camp. Her story touched the people she met. 

Sue and Mike O'Brien co-chair Canadians Accepting Refugees Everywhere, the group that sponsored Salah's family. (CBC)

"To have the opportunity to bring these two families to safety, that's what inspired us. She inspired us," said Michael O'Brien, who co-chairs the Antigonish-based organization Canadians Accepting Refugees Everywhere (CARE). The group partnered with other groups in the community to privately sponsor Salah's family. It took nearly two years. 

Fellow CARE co-chair Sue O'Brien said a team of volunteers spent countless hours filling out forms, tracking down furniture, setting up a home and getting things ready for the newcomer's arrival.

CARE held bake sales, envelope donation campaigns and worked with other refugee sponsorship groups and 100 Women Who Care to raise the money.  

"It's a big day. We've worked a long time. A lot of people have put in a lot of hours to be able to fundraise," Sue O'Brien said.  

A contingent from Antigonish greeted the family when they landed in Halifax. (CBC)

Salah said those volunteers are transforming her love ones' lives, as well as her own. 

"You know what, family is all about what we need in life. The only thing you can feel, how much it means to you is when you miss them. So it's like, the world to me," she said. 

She laughed when she reflected on her own transition to Canada — the weather and the spice-free food were an adjustment. 

She said refugees develop a "strong immunity" to challenges though and her sisters "have their own resilience."

"I know it's different, but I am sure they will catch up," she said. 

Volunteers prepared dinner for the family Thursday evening and a group of former Syrian refugees that CARE sponsored planned to be at the house to greet them. 

With files from Jack Julian