Standing in Mayfair Shopping Centre watching three young sisters climb on the couches, their matching braids swinging and seeing the smiles on their faces, it’s hard to believe that only a few years ago they were fleeing a war-torn country.
Now the Syrian refugee family, who was sponsored by the Westshore Refugee Sponsorship Group, is building a new life in Greater Victoria.
“So far we have a good impression and are optimistic that life is going to be good here,” said the mother, G.B., through her brother-in law and translator on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
The family did not wish to give their full name, as it could endanger the lives of family members that are still living in Syria.
The young family consists of the father, M.B., mother, G.B., and three girls – two-and-a-half, six and eight years old.
Living in Syria while the war was unfolding, the family quickly began to realize how dangerous it was becoming.
There were bombings and airstrikes constantly around their home. In early 2014, the family packed up what they could carry and fled to Lebanon, where they lived in an apartment for four years.
Halfway across the world, the Westshore Refugee Sponsorship Group, consisting of a handful of core members, as well as a number of volunteers, was hard at work, filling out paperwork and fundraising more than $39,000 to bring the family to Canada and help them with living expenses during their first year.
The family already had a connection to Victoria, as M.B.’s younger brother was living in Canada when the war broke out.
After years of war and uncertainty, stepping off the plane at the Victoria International Airport on May 9 was a huge relief for the family and the start of a new chapter in their lives.
“There was lots of anticipation and excitement. We were happy to see our family in Victoria and at the same time there was a lot of anticipation for the future,” G.B. said. “Lots of curiosity.”
For the last four months, the family has been living in a two-bedroom apartment in Saanich and are slowly adapting to life in Canada.
The first few weeks of their arrival were full of appointments to see doctors, get social insurance numbers and set up banking information.
In an effort to familiarize themselves with the region, M.B., who worked as an industrial electrician in Syria, has been hopping on different B.C. Transit buses to learn street names during his spare time.
The three daughters are enrolled at a local elementary school, and the family will be taking swimming lessons together at Saanich Commonwealth Place later this month.
The biggest challenge so far has been learning the language. M.B. and G.B. have been taking English classes with volunteers twice a week, and will be taking classes through the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria in the coming months.
In the future, they will work towards getting their driver’s licences.
“I hope that we have a good life here, are successful, find jobs and become productive citizens,” said M.B.
Susan Davis, a Colwood resident and team lead of the sponsorship group, encourages others to sponsor refugees to Canada as well.
“I would love to do this 20 or 30 more times. There’s still over 22 million refugees in the world. People whose only hope for living a life with freedom, to be able to work and have their children get a good education, is resettlement to another country. The need is as big as ever,” she said.
“It is still a crisis for everybody who’s living it … I would encourage other people to get involved, to start a sponsorship group. The diversity and strength that comes from other cultures makes us stronger as a country.”
The family’s brother-in law is fundraising through the inter-cultural association to bring their brother, sister-in law and two daughters to Canada as well.
For more information, visit thestarfishproject.ca.