On March 5th, 2019 MCC Canada celebrates the 40-year anniversary of the Refugee Sponsorship agreement with the Canadian government. Violence, warfare, and persecution are just a few of the top causes that force millions of people to flee from their home countries every year. According to a 2017 global study released by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are over 68.5 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, left desperately seeking safety and security for their families. Now, more than ever, there is an urgent need to address the refugee crisis around the world. Without the help of the many generous and compassionate supporters across Canada and beyond, MCC Canada would not have been able to reach this milestone and continue to work to help families who have lost their homes, cultures, and memories, in order to find security, safety, and a new beginning through resettlement in Canada.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the Trad family who were Syrian refugees just three years ago. They were sponsored by Foothills Mennonite Church in Calgary through MCC’s Private Refugee Sponsorship Program in 2015 and have since begun a new life in Calgary, Alberta. The Trads share about their experience with fleeing their country, starting anew in Canada, and adjusting to life in Calgary since arriving in December 2015.
The Trad family
In Spring 2014, Faraj and his wife Manal Trad, along with their two young children Tony - now ten, and Mira - now five, were forced to flee from their home in Homs, Syria, as a result of the escalating violence from the ongoing Syrian Civil War. They fled to Lebanon in hopes of finding refuge, but instead were presented with many barriers to basic survival and little hope of a future in the Middle East. Little did they know that in December 2015, they would be welcomed to a new home in Canada. Through MCC Alberta’s Refugee Resettlement and Migration Program, Foothills Mennonite Church (FMC) learned about the Trad family and were moved to sponsor them for resettlement in Canada.
What were some challenges you faced prior to obtaining sponsorship and learning your new home would be in Canada?
Faraj: “When you are forced to move your whole house and move to a new country, it’s a big challenge. We were illegal in Lebanon so finding work was extremely difficult. There are five million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, so it is very difficult to find help. Living was hard for us because we had no support; everything was very expensive. Someone who is a citizen of Lebanon needs to help you to even seek out health assistance if you get sick. Refugee camps are not safe, especially for women as living conditions are terrible - very unsanitary and crowded.”
What was your initial reaction after learning that you had been sponsored and would be headed to Canada?
“We were surprised and happy! We knew Canada is a good country - a first world with respect for human rights, equal treatment, and is safe and secure.”
I asked if they felt any concerns or fears about moving to a new country, and they mentioned there was uncertainty in the sense of how they would navigate a new country and settle in.
“We felt some concern with the language barriers as we didn’t feel confident in our ability to speak the English language with fluency.”
Nonetheless, these feelings changed when Doug Klassen, pastor at FMC, searched and found them on Facebook after the sponsorship was approved. “As we got to know about our sponsorship family and getting to know Doug, we felt at peace, happy, and excited to move to Canada,” says Faraj.
“They are our family. We can never forget what they did for us. Since we arrived, we have said we are not refugees anymore; we are family. Our church is our family.”
How did you feel when you landed in Canada and what was your first year like?
Manal: “Very happy. Peace and excitement. When we left Syria, we wanted to stay in the Middle East, so we were willing to go anywhere there, but when we found out we couldn’t stay in the Middle East, and Canada accepted us, our mindset changed, and our hearts became set on Canada. So, when we came, it was like achieving a goal. We were happy and excited and finally at peace.”
The first year in Canada came with many challenges associated with adjusting to a new culture and environment and close relatives. Manal expressed that they felt “lost” in their first year. On top of the obvious communication and cultural adjustments, the Trads found themselves struggling to adjust to the cold weather and felt overwhelmed with all the different ways of doing things in Canada, such as grocery shopping, connecting utilities and paying bills, acquiring legal documents, and navigating Calgary’s transit system and roads.
Even for young Tony and Mira, it was challenging to adjust to a different form of communication, school system, and cultural environment. The Trads say Tony felt nervous to go to school because he struggled to understand the lessons and relate. Mira was still developing her speech, so upon arriving in Canada, she became confused by the different languages that were being spoken around her (English and Arabic). This affected her speech development in the first year because she didn’t understand how she was to communicate. “It was like beginning again from birth”, Manal said, about their first year.
They are grateful that, during these challenges, they had a strong support system from Pastor Doug and FMC church to help ease the growing pains of new life in Canada. They expressed that FMC Church is not a church separate from them. “They are our family. We can never forget what they did for us. Since we arrived, we have said we are not refugees anymore; we are family. Our church is our family.”
The distance from their Syrian family has been difficult as Faraj and Manal both have parents who are of old age. They express that it is “bittersweet” because they understand they cannot be with their family in Syria and be in Canada where they are safe. Although they can never return to Syria, the Trads remain hopeful that one day they might see their parents one last time.
Life in Canada now
Now that they have been in Canada for three years, the Trads say they feel more confident and capable of managing life in Canada. Manal is taking ESL classes full-time and Faraj is also improving in his English. Tony and Mira are also more relaxed and adjusting well. “Yes, we still need help with some things like taxes, but now we can do more things alone. We feel more courageous and independent to make our own decisions.” “We all feel like we have been born again, second birth; we say we are all three years old - like the time we’ve been here because everything was so new.”
Their goals now are to focus on their children’s future.
Faraj: “We want them to have a good future” – “to obtain the most education and success they can.” “We are thankful that we have come with our children at a young age. We have been able to start their education here from the beginning (Tony began in grade 1 and Mira will start kindergarten in the fall), so we are hopeful that they will have a better chance than if they had come at an older age”.
Faraj hopes to one day be able to work for the Calgary Transit system and down the line own his own business.