Syrian refugee families learn ice fishing on Ottawa River

Abdallah Alfayhin, his wife Wafaa and their four young children were among the Syrian families who learned the quintessentially Canadian pursuit Sunday in Ottawa.

Part of OCISO's efforts to match newcomers with local people

Abdallah Alfayhin, his wife Wafaa and their four children were among the approximately 50 Syrian families who took to the Ottawa River Sunday for a crash course in ice fishing. (CBC)

Abdallah Alfayhin, his wife Wafaa and their four young children zipped up their snowsuits to head out onto the Ottawa River Sunday, ice fishing gear in hand.

The Alfayhins were among some 50 Syrian refugee families who learned the quintessentially Canadian winter pursuit as part of an event hosted by the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO).

The ice fishing event was hosted by the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization in an attempt to connect Syrian families with local volunteers. (CBC)

"It's wonderful, beautiful," Alfayhin said through a translator. "It's very nice to have an event like this so I can meet English-speaking people, [learn] the culture, get to know everybody else."

The ice fishing day was part of an OCISO project called Friends of the Family, in which the organization tries to match recently-arrived Syrian families with locals so that they can feel more connected to the community.

Anchi Wong is one of those volunteers. 

For the next three months, she and her neighbours will be meeting with the Alfayhins, giving them a chance to practice their English and share their culture.

Anchi Wong volunteered to be matched with the Alfayhin family and plans to meet with them once a week for the next three months. (CBC)

They recently had tea with the family and brought them toys for their children to play with. For Wong, who immigrated to Canada from Malaysia 17 years ago, helping the Alfayhins has been "invigorating."

"I landed here in February with a one-month-old," said Wong.

"Getting to know the places in the neighbourhood, [getting] to know people, it was quite challenging — especially in the winter, when you don't see anybody. So I know [what] it's like."

As for Alfayhin, he said through a translator that hopes that once his English improves enough — potentially through community events like Sunday's ice fishing meet — he can find work installing doors and windows, similar to what he did in Syria.

"We love to work. The language is a barrier right now," said Alfayhin. "The most important thing is a nice life for my kids … something that we could not get back home."