Young refugees try skating for 1st time at Edmonton community rink

Rana Jouja learning to skate.
Rana Jouja learning to skate. Morgan Black/Global News

Grade 7 student Duha Alzoubi tried skating for the first time on Thursday.

“It feels like you’re going to fall but you don’t fall,” Alzoubi said. “It’s so cool and so awesome.”

Alzoubi, a refugee from Syria, has been in Edmonton for nearly three years.

“It’s a cool city. All the schools are so cool. They do everything for us, like field trips and other stuff.”

She joined 19 of her classmates, most of whom are Syrian refugees, at the Downtown Community Arena for what was a novel experience for many.

The Edmonton Oilers’ Hockey Programming department hosted the special introduction to hockey. The Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers invited participants to skate.

Rana Jouja, 14, came to Canada from Syria more than a year ago.

Story continues below advertisement

“People are nice. It’s safe. You feel protected here. School is pretty amazing. Teachers are amazing. Everything is pretty phenomenal,” Jouja said.

Thursday was Jouja’s second time on skates.

“I’m not the best at skating but I’ve played [indoor hockey] at school… and I’m pretty good,” Jouja said. “It’s a new experience and I like experiencing new stuff. So I love that I get to wear gloves, helmets, all that stuff.”

Rana Salame, an ESL teacher at Mary Butterworth Junior High, said it’s an incredible opportunity for her students.

A Mary Butterworth student learns to skate
A Mary Butterworth student learns to skate. Morgan Black/Global News

“It’s very important to get the kids involved in the community. It’s giving them a good sense of belonging in Canada,” Salame said. “Having fun and playing is very important. We’re giving them the opportunity to be free with no restrictions.”

Story continues below advertisement

Salame said for some of the students, the opportunity to have fun helps them decompress.

“There is a lot of PSTD. There is a high level of trauma.

“Now, after they settle in [to Canada], we are experiencing a high level of anxiety. They are trying to learn the language and belong to the community,” Salame said.

The chance to skate in the home of the Edmonton Oilers is also a thrill.

“A student from Ethiopia started crying [when he found out we were going]. He’s not with both of his parents. He lost his mom. He said: ‘I get to brag to my cousins who live in Edmonton because they haven’t been to Rogers Place and I have,’” Salame said.
Story continues below advertisement

“He doesn’t know the players, so he went on the Oilers website to learn all about them and about hockey.”

LISTEN BELOW: Young refugees try skating for the first time in Edmonton

Alzoubi said she looks forward to telling her cousins in Syria about her experience.

“They are going to say: ‘How did you skate?’ We never did that in Syria,” said Alzoubi.

Oilers Entertainment Group’s Tim Shipton said it’s exciting to watch the next generation of hockey fans and players on the ice.

“It’s a way to grow the game. There’s so many new people to our country. They see how passionate Edmontonians are for hockey. We wanted to reach out to those communities and give them their first taste of hockey,” Shipton said.

Story continues below advertisement

“When I see the smiling faces on the ice, that says it all.

“These kids have been through a lot. They just want to be a part of this country. This is their chance to jump in,” Shipton said.

As for if there are any future NHL players on the ice?

“There’s a couple players moving out on the ice pretty well… We’ll keep an eye on those ones,” laughed Shipton.

The event was part of the Hockey is for Everyone initiative, meant to help build the game of hockey in the community.