Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Power of Three - A Canadian Story


A tiny rural village on the other side of the world in a country torn apart by war was no longer safe. A shift to Damascus, and then Lebanon, eventually resulted in three young women, three sisters - Amina 20, Shabrim 23. and Souzan 24 - to embark on a journey to the other side of the planet to an unknown and unrecognisable life. Their destination - Calgary, Alberta, Canada. With the entire country falling apart, dissidents disappearing and children being taken off the streets for suspected anti-government activities, only to be tortured by authorities, their parents remained behind, doing what they could to get their children to safety before thoughts of themselves.

Syria is in ruins and its capital of Damascus, the oldest continually inhabited city in the world and once-vibrant cultural hub  is now a city of death and destruction, where homes, schools and hospitals are routinely reduced to rubble. These days, even the world’s biggest aid organizations consider Damascus too dangerous to enter. Moreover, the conflict has metastasised at such a rate that it has spread like a cancer throughout every corner of the ancient country.

It was a cold afternoon in early January of this year when the Boeing 747 carrying the three sisters, on their first ever flight, approached the Calgary International and the snow covered city below. Peering out the window, tears streamed from their eyes. The blanket of white below was like nothing they had ever seen; they were scared, overwhelmed, fearful of the unknown, unsure of what their future held.  A friend of their older brother, who himself left Syria for Germany, had sponsored the three sisters and was waiting for them. And so their new life began.

From the left, Shabrim, Amina and Souzan

Unable to speak English at all, even a missed stop on the bus route left them helpless and unable to ask for help. But this is where the resiliency of newcomers to Canada comes into play, a tremendous courage and self-driven hope that pushes them to overcome things most of us here in Canada will simply never have to face. This is the strength that is added to Canada, this is the value, the power brought to our country in such times, and by such people.

The City of Damascus, courtesy AP
Just ten months later these three girls are speaking English, all three are employed, all three are studying and working so very hard every day. A swell of pride in this writer's heart surges at the thought of all they have accomplished in so little time, for both them and for the country I call home. People arrive in Canada wanting respect, equality, freedom, peace, the right to be who they are and to pursue who they want become, and to do so without fear, but with pride and hope. That is what it means to live in this country. but these are words that to many of us are just that - words - but to people like Amina, Shabrim and Souzan, words that couldn't hold greater meaning.

Old Damascus, courtesy AP
What brought all three sisters to the doorstep of CFN was our entirely unique EthniCity Catering Program. EthniCity Catering, provided through Immigration, Refugee & Immigration Canada (IRCC), the United Way and catering sales, is a social enterprise of the Centre for Newcomers that provides transitional employment and training for immigrant and refugee women and men, and a multi-ethnic menu for Calgary customers. Offering a temporary and part-time Canadian job, along with training to work in a commercial kitchen, the program also presents the opportunity to learn essential life skills and workplace training, along with a food safety card from Alberta Health Services and support in looking for permanent work.The younger sisters, Amina and Shabrim had always enjoyed cooking and looked at the program as a great way to do something they love. Older sister Souzan was never one for cooking, but took the program on her sisters prodding. All three
completed the program and as already mentioned, now work and study here in Calgary. Funny
enough, older sister Souzan (already with an engineering degree from back in Syria) who had to be convinced by her younger siblings to participate, is the only sister who has continued her culinary training and is now studying to be Chef. Upon completion she intends to do her Masters in Engineering at the University of Calgary. 

Their parents are now in Lebanon. They Skype their mother nearly every morning before starting their day.  They miss their mom and dad so very much and hope they can come to Canada to join them. For now, they call the best part of living in Canada being busy - too busy to think about the tragic downfall of their country and being a world away from their family, the only life they had ever known, at every moment. They just work hard and hope. This is why their story is not about immigration, about war or about survival. Their story is about what it means to live out the human experience in Canada. Their story is about being Canadian.

All of us here at CFN are so very proud of all three sisters and they will always be a part of the CFN family. For more information on this story, on how you can get involved with CFN, or our EthniCity Catering program check out our website or give us a call at 403-569-3325. 

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