Our Syrian friends mark one year in Hamilton

by Sarah Wayland

Just over a year ago, I wrote on these pages about the journey of our congregation at the Church of St. John the Evangelist Hamilton to sponsor a refugee family. We had made the decision to sponsor, raised funds and were waiting to be matched with a refugee family identified for resettlement to Canada.

We expected that process to take several months, but in fact it happened extremely quickly. The Diocese of Niagara had been given information about the Al Hariris, a family of four from Syria, and we were asked if we wanted to sponsor this family. Of course we did! Their processing was expected to take a month or two. However, we soon got a call letting us know that the family would arrive within the week!

Our team scrambled, and all the bits and pieces fell into place for their January 29 arrival. Despite their evident fatigue, the parents were full of questions about life in Canada, including whether or not they would be able to practice their professions.

Since those first days, the parents, Emad and Kothar, have been enrolled in intensive English classes and are adjusting well. Their oldest son, age five, who spoke no English a year ago, now strings together full sentences with no trace of foreign accent.

To celebrate the family’s one year anniversary in Canada, and to mark the end of our formal sponsorship period, we held a potluck banquet featuring various Syrian dishes. Bishop Michael said a few words, and we showed photos from the past year. But the most memorable part of the evening was when Emad addressed us with great emotion, saying:

“One year of hope, one year of love, one year of brotherhood. We abandoned our lives, our memories and our family because of the war in Syria. Three years in a camp there was no hope—we worked like machines just to survive. When I was 13 my father said to me try to build a house everywhere. I did not understand. He meant try to find family, friends and a community. Now I understand. I have many houses here in Canada, many families and I love them.”

There have been many ups and downs in the past year for us and for this family, including losses in Syria. To say that our volunteer team has learned much is an understatement!

Eighteen months ago, we had felt called to love some neighbours on the other side of the world; today we are so happy to call them our immediate neighbours and our friends.

Sarah Wayland is a member of Church of St. John the Evangelist Hamilton.

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