September 6, 2016 8:04 pm
Updated: September 6, 2016 10:03 pm

First day of school has special meaning for Syrian refugee students in Surrey

WATCH: Tanya Beja followed one family of Syrian refugees, as their children started school for the first time since they fled their war-torn country.


The first day of school has a special meaning for the Muslem family from Syria. Fourteen-year-old Roha, 11-year-old Arine, nine-year-old Sara and six-year-old Lucy will begin their Canadian education in Surrey. The family came to Canada last May and are eager to resume classes after missing out on school for nearly a year.

“I want to go to school, I’m excited,” Arine said.

“Everyday they ask my father, ‘When are we going to school?'” her sister Roha added.

The Kurdish family fled the war in Syria four years ago and sought shelter in Lebanon before coming to Surrey as government-sponsored refugees.

Zahra and Fadel Muslem seized the opportunity to give their daughters stability and a more promising future.

“I’ve had it in my mind that my kids will not only learn to read and write, but get degrees and integrate – that they’ll learn everything good from Canadian schools and Canadian people,” Fadel said.

“The most important thing is that they pursue their own dreams,” Zahra added.

WATCH: Syrian students head to school in Surrey

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The transition to life in Canada isn’t without its challenges. Like many Syrian refugees, they have a small income and a large family, and had few options of where to settle. They are happy with their home in Surrey, and are thankful for the neighbours who have helped them adjust.

“When we first arrived they took care of us, they took away some of our worries,” Fadel said. “They would take us shopping if we needed to, or if I wanted to take my daughters somewhere they would offer right away. They’d say, ‘We’ll take you.’ So the problem’s not with the house – it’s just the distance and needing to go places.”

They have no car, their bikes were stolen, and the home is a 15-minute walk from public transit, which makes accessing services difficult for the family of eight. In addition to the four daughters, the Muslems have a young son, and are caring for Fadel’s mother who has Parkinson’s disease.

LanguageĀ is another barrier for the family. While the daughters are learning English quickly, Fadel and Zahra rely on them to translate. They are also getting help from MOSAIC Settlement Workers, who introduce them to the Canadian school system and interpret when necessary.

“We talk to them about when school starts, how long classes might be. It may be difficult for some children to stay in one place for a long time, depending on the circumstances they are coming from,” Joanna Habdank of MOSAIC said.

“We want to talk about the similarities and differences (between Syria and Canada) so that there are as little surprises as possible when they do start school.”

The family is thankful for their new beginning here and hope to one day bring Fadel’s brother, his wife and two children from Turkey so that they can experience the peace that Canada offers.

“They’ll have a good education, far away from all these problems and wars, and they’ll avoid an uncertain future,” Fadel said.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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