By Miles Hamzi
Shahoud, 38, considers himself one of 35,000 lucky Syrians who were initially chosen to resettle in Canada in December 2015. With more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees scattered around the globe, and twice as many within Syria desperately in need of humanitarian aid (according to UNHCR), Shahoud is “truly blessed” to have escaped a 10-year civil war that has left over 400,000 dead.
“We saw the worst of misfortunes before we came here,” says Shahoud. He was about to be drafted into the Syrian army in 2013 when he fled to Lebanon and took refuge for a year-and-a-half trying to make ends meet. “It was not my war in the first place. Imagine, we were not allowed to speak any language other than Arabic,” says Shahoud, who belongs to a Christian minority sect that has maintained their Syriac Aramaic language for centuries.
Trudeau personally went to fetch the right shoe size for my son. Where in the world would you find a head of state who will greet you with such love and compassion?
“Many of our people are thrown in jail and tortured by the government when caught talking in Aramaic. We speak it only at home and teach it to our kids in secret.”
Shahoud was overwhelmed with the welcome he and his family received when they first arrived in Canada. “At Pearson Airport, people were handing us clothes and gifts, while [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau personally went to fetch the right shoe size for my son. Where in the world would you find a head of state who will greet you with such love and compassion?”
Shahoud, who was a truck driver in Syria, says settling in Toronto with his wife and six kids is frustrating. He has had to resort to unskilled labour to survive. He wants to drive trucks again but can’t afford the $7,500 certification course; and learning English is a struggle, although taking LINC courses at MNLCT has enhanced his language skills. “We are so grateful for the warmth we have received – for the church that sponsored us and for Mennonite New Life Centre, which helped us translate documents and research jobs.”
Shahoud has been on the job hunt for the past six months. “I am determined to do whatever it takes to secure a good future for my kids. What Canada has done for us is beyond belief. My family and I owe our lives to this country. This is our home now.”