By Marjorie George
The third time Ahmed had to move his family after an Ottawa landlord sold the unit they were living in, he decided he needed to buy his own home. He went to the bank to find out about down payments and mortgages, then set to work. He worked 12 to 14 hours seven days a week, driving for Uber and doing whatever other jobs he could get. In early 2020, he had saved enough to buy a house in Orleans – mercifully before the 40-per-cent increase in housing prices in Ottawa.
All of this within four years of arriving in Canada from Syria!
Ahmed (a pseudonym) and his family were sponsored by an organization called FACES, to which I belong. We are a group of people from St. Matthews, St. Giles and Glebe-St. James churches along with other members of the community, which has raised over $300,000 to sponsor more than 75 newcomers to Canada.
Ahmed’s family were the first refugees that FACES (First Avenue Churches and Community Embracing Sponsorship) helped settle in Ottawa. They arrived in 2016 from a Turkish refugee camp where they had spent three and a half years after fleeing western Syria in 2012. Ahmed had been in the Syrian army, which he deserted when he saw the atrocities he was expected to commit. (A cousin in Syria who shares his name was recently jailed for three months until he could prove his identity, so even in Canada Ahmed is wary of his name being known.) At the refugee camp, Ahmed says he saw Prime Minister Trudeau on a TV news channel announcing that Canada would welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees. He was very pleased when his application was accepted by Canada.
When Ahmed and his wife arrived with onechild, she was pregnant with their second. FACES arranged for a furnished apartment in downtown Ottawa and helped them set up banking, medical care and the myriad other things that need to be dealt with when you move to a new country. Ahmed says he had no idea they were being sponsored or would get so much help until he saw the phalanx of volunteers at the foot of the escalator in the Ottawa airport!
They have since gone on to have two more children and say this is their finished family. With very little English and knowing no one, they had to learn to adapt to the cold weather, the language and the job market. Ahmed quickly learned English, bought a car and started working hard. Three years later, he was ready to help integrate his extended family who arrived as government-assisted refugees. They included his parents, a disabled sister, another sister who is currently at school and a 20-year-old brother who is working as a delivery driver. Ahmed has leveraged the flexible hours of his job as a driver so he can be available to help them out.
He and his family have had a nightmarish time during the pandemic. They caught COVID last spring, a week before they were due to be vaccinated. Both Ahmed and his wife were very ill. His wife was hospitalized twice, and Ahmed had to manage on his own with his baby son screaming for his mother. Because they didn’t want to infect anyone else, they could not get any help. They both had long COVID and Ahmed was unable to work for months. In addition, he had a cancer scare that has only recently been resolved. A year later, they are beginning to feel normal again – two of the children have returned to school and things are looking better.
Despite these difficult times, Ahmed says that he feels very lucky to be in Canada and is deeply grateful for all the help that FACES gave his family during their first year here. Canada has helped them have a better life and a future. They are all very happy to be Canadian citizens. Ahmed hopes one day to have a business, perhaps selling Middle Eastern foods. In the meantime, he is saving up for a trip to Turkey so that his wife can see her parents and they can meet their grandchildren.
FACES is very proud of this couple, and we know that they and their children will be strong contributors to Canada’s future.
FACES is currently raising money to bring a young Iraqi couple living in Turkey to Canada. If you would like to contribute, please visit www.stmatthewsottawa.ca/index.php/outreach/refugee-sponsorship.
Marjorie George is a FACES community representative and volunteer.