It has been exactly one year since the Al Masalmehs — a Syrian family of eight — stepped off a plane into Canada.
Although it was their first time setting foot in Canada, it wasn’t the first time they traveled to a new country seeking refuge; the Al Masalmehs left their home in the southern city of Daraa, Syria, as refugees in 2013 and headed for Jordan. They moved to London on February 2nd, 2016.
“Everybody has a smile,” says 43-year-old Hassan Al Masalmeh, reflecting on the past 12 months. “They like to help each other, they like to help us when we are new here.”
The Al Masalmehs are one of 246 Syrian families — or 1,195 Syrian refugees — to move to London in 2016, and adapting to their new life has made the day-to-day very busy.
Hassan was a truck driver in Syria, and hopes to become a truck driver in Canada too — but that requires good communication skills, so he spends every weekday with his wife, 35-year-old Arwa, attending ESL classes at H.B. Beal from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m..
But first, they have to get their children ready for school.
“We start at 6 a.m. in the morning,” explains Hassan, then points to his youngest son, five-year-old Abod. “This guy — the small one — he don’t want to wake up early,” he laughs.
For the first two and a half hours of their day, Hassan and Arwa are waking up and preparing their children for school; Abod, his four-year-old sister Ghanna, and his 11-year-old brother Mohammad all go to Glen Cairn Public School. The three older children, 14-year-old Majad, 17-year-old Lama, and 18-year-old Maya all go to H.B. Beal Secondary School.
Maya is taking Grade 12 classes, and hopes to attend Fanshawe College.
Grades won’t be a problem for Maya, she boasts a 90 per cent mark in geography and an 80 per cent in science. But like her father, she’ll need to understand more of the language.
Lama takes Grade 11 classes at H.B. Beal, and speaks of becoming an engineer some day. Her favourite class is math.
She giggles while explaining she’ll make a lot of money as an engineer, which means she can travel all around the world. But she also speaks of seeing a future in Canada. A future she didn’t see, in Syria.
“In Syria it is so bad. I’m not studying, I’m not going to school for maybe two years. The same in Jordan. But here in Canada, it is so nice,” says Lama.
Although taken up with new goals of making a living in Canada, the Al Masalmehs have not forgotten their old home; a muted TV in their living room is turned to an arabic news channel.
“I want to know what happens in my country. I have also some family — my sister, my sister and her family there, and my friends also there,” says Hassan. He says many of his friends in Syria have died, but he has some family living as refugees in Jordan. The United Nations says since the war began in 2011, an estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed.
“They are still there,” Hassan says of his mother and brothers. “The economy is breaking down, no work, no helping from organizations (…) they’re hopeless. That’s the word they use to describe their situation now. They’re hopeless.”
Hassan says if things were to settle and become safe again, he wouldn’t return to Syria — he says it was a beautiful country, but it’s been destroyed by the war.
“If I ask my kids now, if they want to go back to Syria or Jordan, they say ‘no, we stay in Canada.’”
“I will see my future here, I will stay here for forever,” says Maya. “Canada has given me the safety for me, for my family.”