After fleeing a war-torn country and living as a refugee in Turkey, Sari Alesh is now faced with a new challenge — building a new life in Victoria.
Alesh had a successful career as a classical musician, playing violin with the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra, touring Europe with various orchestras and teaching music to others, before war broke out in the Middle East.
Alesh was forced to put his music on hold, leave his home in Damascus and flee to Turkey.
With the help of the Victoria Refugee Sponsorship Group, a local group who raised the roughly $20,000 needed to sponsor him, Alesh made his way to Canada.
On Feb. 9, which also happened to be his 31st birthday, Alesh finally arrived in Victoria.
Within two months, Alesh was not only excited to learn English, but to share his passion for music with the local community.
He played two concerts with the University of Victoria Symphony and played at a fundraiser for the Intercultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA).
Alesh also started to study violin under Michael van der Sloot at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, has plans to teach music to children with Down Syndrome and is hoping to complete his masters degree in music.
“I’m so happy and so glad to be here,” Alesh said, adding he has made a couple of new Syrian friends. “Life in Canada is wonderful.”
The biggest challenge for Alesh has been learning the language. He is currently living with a home stay family as he studies English at UVic.
“I’m interested in finding work as soon as possible,” he said. “I will try to work and study at the same time. I think it’s difficult to find work in Victoria, but I will try.”
Sabine Lehr, one of the volunteers who helped bring Alesh to Canada and immigrant services manager with the ICA, said he’s adapting well to life in a new country.
“He seems to be embracing being here and he seems to really like Victoria, which is wonderful,” Lehr said. “He’s already speaking English very well . . . I think he has a wonderful career ahead of him.”
Alesh is one of many Syrian refugees who came to Canada by way of private sponsorship. As a thank you for being welcomed into the community, Alesh performed three Turkish and Arabic songs at an event Tuesday morning.
The event was to thank the local community, businesses and residents who stepped up to help bring refugees to the region.
In total, the ICA has welcomed roughy 170 government-assisted refugees to Vancouver Island, most of whom have been placed in permanent housing. More than 28 refugees have also come to Victoria by way of private sponsorship from local groups.
Jean McRae, executive director of the association, estimated another 200 government-assisted refugees will resettle in Victoria by the end of the year.