Opinion

My year as a refugee: Creating a new life for my 4 children

When sleeping problems and nightmares started affecting my kids, I knew we had to leave Syria.

When sleeping problems and nightmares started affecting my kids, I knew we had to leave Syria

I am happy with our decision to come to Canada, and I am reassured that my kids will have a great future. (Supplied)

The following was translated by Ahmed Najdat. To read it in Arabic, click here. إقرأ المقال بالعربي هنا

I was in my third month of pregnancy when the conflicts started in my country.

We lived in the city of Homs in Syria during a very difficult time — constantly confronted with death — and were unable to secure our basic needs.

Sleeping problems and nightmares started affecting my three kids, Ayman, Zainab and Nadia. That was when I started discussing leaving Syria with my husband, Khalid.

We decided to pursue the unknown and leave friends and memories behind.

Life in Jordan

We went to Jordan on Nov. 14, 2011. Our new life there cost us all our life savings. My husband was able to find a decent-paying job, but it was through an illegal contract, since Syrians were not allowed to work in Jordan by law. Working illegally stressed him a lot. He was working for many hours, sacrificing his health for the job, all so he could provide the necessities for the kids to have a good life.

As for me, I was able to meet doctors and psychiatrists who let me go along on field trips to help new Syrian refugee families in Jordan. We helped them medically, psychologically and socially. We then formed the "Bright Future" organization, which helps Syrian refugees in Jordan with mental health issues.

Refugees collect supplies at the Hadarat border crossing between Jordan and Syria. (Renee Black)

But all my work was cut short when the United Nations called. My file was chosen and we were invited to Canada.

It was an unexpected surprise.

The decision to travel took a long time. The discussions with my kids were tiring because they just settled in Jordan and did not want to leave to a new place. In the end, my husband and I decided to take this step to secure a better future for the kids.

The flight was scary for my kids because they had never travelled by air before. I still can't forget when the plane first took off, and the fear I saw on their faces. Later on, I used an educational book on the geography of Canada to distract them and teach them at the same time.

The flight took 14 hours. We reached Toronto's airport on Jan. 7, 2016.

Despite how exhausted I was, I still remember the people that welcomed us with smiles and presents for the kids. It was the perfect way to make them forget the flight fears.

Two days later, we were on our way to London, Ont. We spent 20 days in a beautiful hotel, where we met other Syrian families that were residing with us. All the families were supporting each other, which created a positive atmosphere.

Later we moved to our new home. That's when we faced some difficulties.

Adjusting to a new life

First, we moved into a house that was far from the kids' schools, with limited public transit access. This meant that I had to walk for a long distance with the kids in snow every day to their schools, and then walk further to my language school.

My teenage son, Ayman, then started hanging out with an Arab-speaking group of friends at school, which stunted his language education in an obvious way. It forced me to move him to a different school, and since then, his progress in speaking English has been very noticeable.

The cultural differences also proved to be something that I needed to discuss with my kids, since they are at very critical ages (five, nine, 15 and 16). I dedicated times of the day to sit down and have discussions with them about ways to adjust to our new life.

Our next family decision was to buy a car to ease our transportation problems. I decided to get a driver's licence, but I never expected to fail my driving test because I used to drive back home. Being nervous led to me to forget to put on the car seatbelt. I have to admit, the rules are a lot different here.

I was lucky to pass the test the second time, though. I was proud to be one of the first refugee women in London to get the full driver's licence.

The author and her family on a trip to Niagara Falls. (Supplied)

When it comes to things I love in Canada, there are many. I love the concept of volunteering. I constantly volunteer at my girls' schools, as well as other places. I also love the four Canadian seasons. Nature is really breathtaking here, and it helps me retain my purity and calmness.

Today, I am happy with our decision, and I am reassured that my kids will have a great future. My husband is working by fixing cars. I am also very proud of my own progress in education. I am in Level 4 of my language level, and I intend to continue my education so I can be a great support for my family.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nemat Almasri is a mother of four who volunteers helping newcomer refugee families in Canada. She lives in London, Ont.

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