Syrian U of S professor finds safety for family in Saskatoon

From daily fears of armed conflict to the calm Saskatchewan prairies, this year has been a journey for one Syrian woman living in Saskatoon.

'I was so happy to have this chance,' says Rana Mustafa

Rana Mustafa wanted a better life for her two children, 10-year-old Anas Mohamad (pictured) and daughter Sana, 17, when she moved from Syria to Saskatoon for a job at the University of Saskatchewan. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC News)

From daily fears of armed conflict to the calm Saskatchewan prairies, this year has been a journey for one Syrian woman living in Saskatoon.

Rana Mustafa landed in the Bridge City in February, with her two children in tow, to start a job researching food science at the University of Saskatchewan.

She now considers the city her second home. But she endured two long, and sometimes frightening, years in Syria while she waited to find a job and secure a visa to work in Canada. 

Before the war started, Mustafa lived with her family in Homs, where she also worked as a lecturer and researcher in the food engineering department at Al-Baath University. They stayed in the city until it became too dangerous for the children to go to school. 

Eventually, their schools were bombed in airstrikes, as was Mustafa's former home.

Forced to leave Homs

"It was so dangerous and it was the first place where the war was started so my apartment, my faculty where I was working, was all destroyed," she said.

Mustafa and her family eventually moved out of the city, but she continued to work in the city when she could.

She started looking for a scholarship to help her find a job in Canada, where she wanted to take her family to safety. 

Speaking to CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning on Tuesday, she recalled the moment she got the good news from the University of Saskatchewan. 

"I was so happy to have this chance to come and to work in a good and safe place," she said.

"It was so, it's not similar to another day, because I waited for that two years. I [worked] two years to get the scholarship and the position, and one year to get a visa."

Back in Syria

Mustafa's husband and her entire family are still in Syria, so they try to stay in touch online. 

Her son Anas Mohamad, 10, said he was young when the war started but he remembers some of the things that changed. 

"When I was small, because we had those malls that are now bombed," he said.

"They were awesome, like you go and it was fun shopping in them. When the war came, we couldn't go to them." 

When the war started to cut off electricity to Syrian families, Mustafa bought instruments that her family could play without power. 

Mohamad learned to play the oud and has memorized the notes to O Canada since he arrived in Saskatoon. 

He said he was reluctant to move to Canada at first but changed his mind when he thought about his educational opportunities. 

Home away from home

Mustafa said she plans to go back to Syria and help her country rebuild when the war is over. 

At the University of Saskatchewan, she's currently working on two projects with connections to Syria. 

The first project has her using a Syrian fast food made from chickpeas and fava beans to develop a meat substitute.

The second project is the development of a healthier snack that could help malnourished children, including those in Syria.

She believes her children are enjoying life in Canada as well.

"They are so happy, so grateful to be in Canada, and from the first day when they came, because their level of English was good, so they didn't have any problems," she said. 

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning