Halifax community coming together to help reunite Syrian couple, daughters

Yvette d'Entremont ydentremont@hfxnews.ca
Published on January 6, 2017

Talal Khalaf

©Jeff Harper/Metro

Talal Khalaf is all smiles as he recites the names of all those rallying to help him reunite his family.

Last January, Khalaf, his wife Fayrouz and eight of their 10 children moved to Halifax.

The government-sponsored refugee family spent four years in a Jordanian refugee camp after fleeing their home in Syria.

When they finally left the camp bound for Canada, their two oldest daughters, Noor and Rabiya, had to stay behind.

Both are over 18 and each was married with two children.

Upon his arrival last winter, Khalaf quickly made a friend in Betty Cougle, a parent at Chebucto Heights Elementary School in Cowie Hill where his children were new students.

Through an Arabic interpreter he told her his story and asked her to help him bring the rest of his family to Canada.

Cougle recalls the emotion of later trying to type out his story with the help of an interpreter.

“I looked at Talal at one point and he just had tears running down his eyes and it was so moving as he was talking about the poverty that they had been in,” Cougle recalled.

“I turned around and I hugged him and said, ‘I’m going to help you.’ I was so incredibly moved. I’m a mom of two daughters and it was just so powerful to me to think about making that choice. For the sake of the younger children, we have to leave the older ones in this extreme poverty.”

Research and many phone calls eventually led Cougle to John Hennigar-Shuh with St. James United Church in Sambro. The Khalaf family was invited to the church where they shared their story.

The church and members of the larger Sambro-area community have since rallied around the Khalaf family and become their support network.

“One of the guys in our group said he’d concentrate on getting (Talal) a job as a mechanic because he had taught mechanics in high school in Syria,” Hennigar-Shuh said.

“The first place that he went was Michael Kennedy’s Petro-Canada on Quinpool Road and Michael said, ‘Yes. I’ll hire him.’”

Hennigar-Shuh said the more they share the family’s story, the more support they receive.

Since the end of November, they’ve raised $40,000 of the $54,000 needed to bring both Khalaf’s daughters and their families to Canada.

This Sunday, Denis Ryan and Tony Quinn are headlining a benefit concert for the family. They’re bringing their Celtic sound along with several musical guests.

“Denis Ryan was moved by the same thing that was making me cry and affecting everybody. This touches people in a very human way,” Hennigar-Shuh said.

The Sunday concert at St. James United Church, 3811 Old Sambro Rd., begins at 6:30 p.m. with a snow date of Tuesday.

“I am very happy. Fayrouz is very, very happy,” Khalaf said with a smile when asked about the support they’ve received.