A refugee family becomes Canadian... one driving lesson at a time
By Stephanie Cram
When Syrian refugee Asya Almohammad first immigrated to Canada nearly two years ago, she didn't realize she'd be learning to drive on the snowy streets of Dauphin, Manitoba.
Hers was one of three families sponsored by an inter-faith church group in Dauphin.
Church members Kathy and Regent Bellemare said they wanted to get involved after seeing news footage of the death of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on a Turkish shore in September 2015.
When you have the ability and resources to do something about it, then it's time to get involved.- Kathy Bellemare
Helping the families adjust to Canadian living involved a lot of tiny learning experiences.
"We realized that not only would we need to bring the families to Canada and teach them English, but we probably would also have to do the things that most Canadians take for granted," said Regent.
"One of them is the ability to drive a car."
"We didn't have to twist their arms... I just thought, 'Wow, that's really cool because they're in a new country and they're game.'"
Asya's husband, Louia Alassaf, was the first to learn how to drive, with the help of Regent.
"This is a farming community, so if Louia were to get himself a job as a farmhand, he would have to drive to the farm area," says Regent.
"And just going shopping for groceries and stuff... you can't lug three, or four, or five, or six bags of groceries on a cold winter day that easily if you're walking."
"Women in Syria stay home, and women here in Canada work," says Asya, who adds that she wants to learn to drive to have the freedom to run errands whenever she wants, and to pick up her children from school.
Every Sunday morning, Kathy and Asya meet in the parking lot of Dauphin Market Place mall for their lessons.
I have tremendous freedom as a Canadian woman, and it gives me great pleasure to be able to show her the possibilities of what she could have for her life.- Kathy Bellemare
"To know that you're making a difference in someone's life... it [is] just such a feeling of happiness."
"Now I don't just have my husband and my children. Regent, Kathy... that's my family," says Asya.
Once Asya passes her driving test, she says that the first place she wants to drive to is the mall.
Stephanie Cram is an associate producer for Unreserved. She started at CBC in 2016, with CBC Indigenous. Before working for CBC, Stephanie was a trainer with the Journalists for Human Rights Indigenous Reporters Program, and lived in a small community called Sachigo Lake First Nation. In 2016, she was the recipient of the CJF Indigenous Journalism Fellowship. In her spare time Stephanie likes to listen to podcasts, binge Netflix series, and try out new soup recipes.