A light drizzle fell on the city that June morning when the Syrian family first stepped off the plane in Terrace. To their surprise, inside the airport a small crowd of local sponsors, supporters and translators were eagerly awaiting their arrival.
Only a day earlier, the al Kadro family had boarded their flight in Lebanon to start a new life in Canada.
Amer and Rahma and their three children Zeinab, 7, Youssef, 5, and Abd al Elah, 4, had been living in a makeshift refugee camp in Beqaa Valley, Lebanon since fleeing the brutal civil war raging in their native Homs four years prior.
But it wasn’t until they’d watched numerous other families leave for new homes in Europe that they were told by the United Nations that they would soon be on a plane bound for Canada.
“They said ‘Do you want to travel to Canada or not?’ – we said ‘Of course!’” recounts Rahma, the couple both speaking with the assistance of an Arabic translator.
“We had wished to travel.”
Amer smiles in agreement: “We were absolutely elated; life was very difficult in Lebanon.”
A local group of sponsors had been working for months to prepare to greet the family – whom they had never met – and support them financially and socially during their first year here as part of the federal government’s blended visa program.
Now settled into their apartment, the al Kadros are focused on learning the language so they can work and support their children through their education.
Before the war, Amer worked as a truck and taxi driver while Rahma cared for their young children. Both were born and raised in the city of Homs.
Rahma had never travelled outside of Syria before.
That all changed quickly in 2012 as violence and anti-government protests in the country erupted into an all-out civil war.
“You could hear the sounds of the bullets and the firing – it was very frightening for the children,” Amer recalls.
Rahma adds: “We’d go onto the street and we wouldn’t know where the firing was coming from. There was shelling from tanks [and] from the air.”
And then their house was hit.
“Everything was destroyed. It wasn’t just our house, it was the whole area,” says Amer as Rahma describes how they left with only their clothes on their back and their most important documents. Abd al Elah, now four, was only two months at the time.
Crossing the border into Lebanon, shells rained down on the area killing eight people – one shell landed only one or two metres away from their car, reports Rahma, motioning to the distance at which she saw it hit.
Children, elders, and neighbours were killed, she says.
Though most of Amer’s family fled to Lebanon and Jordan, he says one of his brothers disappeared near Damascus.
“My older brother, he was taken, we don’t know what happened,” recalls Amer. “Without reason, it was very, very hard.”
Their makeshift camp in Lebanon did not have much to offer. It wasn’t an official refugee camp, but it became one as more people came to set up their tents.
Rahma says the tent they lived in for four years was built out of plastic and some wood.
“Even on that small patch of land where we had our tent, we had to pay rent – 50 US dollars a month. We paid for water, we paid for electricity, we paid for garbage collection,” she notes. “There were no schools for Syrian children . . . we couldn’t go back, we didn’t have money.”
Amer adds that he only found work a couple of days a month and received a bit of assistance from the United Nations.
But then the family was told what they had been waiting to hear – that they were booked to travel to Canada.
“We expected from Canada a better life for our children, for their education. It’s a blessed life, it’s a good life,” says Amer. “People in Terrace are very good and kind and we know they have supported a second family.”
“More than thanks to all the people who supported us coming to Canada,” Rahma says, extending her gratitude to sponsor Heather Hayes, who has been part of the family’s core support here.
“We’ve only been here one month, but we’ve been greeted and welcomed by so many people.”
With the assistance of their sponsors, the children are enrolled in swimming lessons through the Terrace Child Development Centre and spend a couple days a week with an English teacher.
When asked how the language lessons are going, Rahma laughs.
“Good,” she then says in English.
Amer answers in Arabic: “I mean . . . it’s a little hard. Hopefully we will get it.”
“It’s good for the children, but maybe we slow them down because we’re studying together,” he says of the three youngsters who have already picked up numerous English expressions.
They will be attending school in the fall and their parents will also join them when it comes time for language lessons. Amer is anxious to learn the language so that he can return to his job as a driver.
When asked what his hopes for the future are, he responds: “The education of our children and, for us, to work and to build a home.”
Rahma agrees: “It was impossible for them to study in Lebanon, but we supported them.”
“Their future in Canada is better.”
Our conversation with the al Kadro family was translated with the assistance of Anna Zacharias.