For the Al-Hussein family, the Canadian dream finally came true when they bought a house in Truro last month.
Like many Canadian families, their lives are a blur of work, school and gatherings with friends who often drop by their new home on Nova Drive. If they’re lucky, Abdel Al-Hussein and his wife Asayma Al-Mustafa can enjoy some precious down time in the evenings, watching Arabic pop videos on TV while their children are out working or with friends, as they did on Aug. 9 when the Truro News visited them at their house.
But their Canadian dream was born in tragedy. Seven years ago, war came to their hometown of Idlib in Syria, forcing the Al-Husseins to flee to Lebanon where they spent five years as refugees before they came to Canada in July 2016.
Sponsoring them was local group Project Hope, who set up a furnished home for them in Brookfield and raised money to support the family during their first year in Colchester County.
“When we first came the house was all done and then we stayed and had a lot of fun, they were all very nice – their smiles and funny humour,” said Abdel of his sponsors.
It was not all fun for the Al-Hussein family. Their first task was learning English, which their children did fairly quickly.
Their eldest son Ahmad is the most fluent and spoke with a Canadian accent when the Truro news phoned him to arrange a meeting with his family. His younger brother Mohammed also speaks fluently, as does his sister Ghufran and the youngest child Alaa.
However, mastering English is more difficult for Abdel and Asayma, even after more than two years in Canada. They often ask their children to translate for them, or use language apps on their smartphones.
Despite the language barrier, both parents work in Truro. Abdel makes windows at the Kohltech Windows and Entrance Systems factory in Debert and his wife does housekeeping shifts at the Holiday Inn, where she is joined part-time by Ghufran.
“I like the good treatment – from the manager to the youngest person in the lab – and I love to work a lot,” said Abdel.
His children share their parents’ love of hard work. Ahmad is taking online business courses after graduating with a business management diploma from the Nova Scotia Community College in Truro. He also works at the Mario Baini’s Emporium Pizza and Food Market in Brookfield.
A musician in his spare time, he has his own YouTube channel with more than 3,000 followers, where he posts his own rock and rap videos.
Mohammed is a Grade 11 student at Cobequid Education Centre, where he plays on the soccer team. He is also an avid soccer fan who supports Barcelona, just one of millions of supporters worldwide, but he does not let that distract from his schooling.
“I think it is so important. I can finish school and graduate and do my own work, I want to go into business,” said Mohammed.
The Al-Hussein children were lucky after the war broke out, as they only missed a few months after they left Idlib.
Once they reached Lebanon, they stayed in a town called Anjar, about three kilometres from the Syrian border, where the children were allowed to attend school. Meantime, their parents worked odd jobs until they flew to Canada.
In Nova Scotia, little Alaa found adjusting to school hard when she first arrived, as she struggled with math. After a few months, she mastered the subject extra tutoring from a member of her resettlement group. She has recently completed her Grade 5.
“Now we are working, thank God,” said Abdel. “All my family are working.”
At that point family friend Hannah Gray came by to say hello, greeting the Al-Husseins warmly, hugging Alaa and calling her “my best friend.”
Everyone enjoyed black Arabic coffee and sweet tea as the conversation turned to racism and discrimination, which many Syrians and other refugees in Europe have faced. There have been some cases of this in Canada, but the problem is less common here.
Luckily, the Al Husseins have not suffered any bigotry in Nova Scotia, saying that everyone has treated them well.
“Do you know what discrimination is?” Gray asked Alaa. “It’s when people treat you differently because they don’t like Syrians.”
“No,” replied Alaa.
Gray’s father Bruce was involved in resettling Syrian families in the Truro area and his daughter became fast friends with the Al-Husseins, meeting them whenever she is home from her studies at Queen’s University in Ontario.
“They’re very welcoming and kind, they’re a lot of fun and they teach us a lot about community. Alaa makes me laugh and they helped out when my dad was unwell, they weeded my garden,” said Gray.
The Al-Husseins are one of four Syrian families resettled in the Truro region, according to Jodie Matheson at Project Hope.
People from all four families have now found work and they are expected to stay and build their lives in Colchester County.
By the end of 2017, some 1,475 Syrian refugees had arrived in Nova Scotia, a small fraction of the 50,000 or so now in Canada.
Soon after winning the October 2015 federal election, the federal Liberals began airlifting the first 25,000 Syrians to Canada from refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.
By early 2016, the first 25,000 Syrians had been resettled, but private sponsorship groups can still apply to bring refugees into Canada.
More than five million Syrians have fled their country since the civil war broke out in March 2011 and the United Nations that number could be higher than six million.