One year ago the Revelstoke for Refugee Committee drove to the Kelowna Airport with warm coats and boots to welcome a Syrian family of four.
The Alsowwans were forced to flee Syria due to the ongoing civil war. According to the UN, as of March 2019, more than 5.7 million Syrians have fled the country. After the Second Congo War, the Syrian War is the most deadly conflict of the 21st century. By 2016, Encyclopedia Britannica estimates one in 10 Syrians have been killed in the fighting.
For several years, life wasn’t easy for the Alsowwan family.
Before coming to Revelstoke, their previous three homes were destroyed by tanks, shrapnel and air fire.
Last week, Revelstoke celebrated the family’s one year anniversary with a pot luck at the United Church.
“This is an incredible family,” said Laura Stovel from the Revelstoke for Refugee Committee. She addressed a crowd of roughly 40 people. People clapped and cheered as she spoke.
Since arriving, Farhan, the dad, found a job at the Nomad, got a driver’s license and hopes to one day become a truck driver. The mother Amal works at the daycare and volunteers for the food bank. Hamza is in Grade 12, interested in snow boarding and plans to go to university to become a doctor. Mohammad is in Grade 10, likes to cross country ski and plays guitar.
“He does a mean Skip To My Lou,” said Stovel.
Recently, the committee rallied to fundraise for the Alsowwans as the family had a debt to the federal government for their flight expenses to Canada totalling more than $6,000. However, Revelstoke went far beyond and raised almost $12,000.
“Without friends to support us, we wouldn’t have survived here,” said Amal. The family spoke to me through a translator, Georges Assouad, another Syrian who recently moved to Revelstoke.
“Leaving our family in Syria was very sad. Thank God we found family here,” said Farhan. “I don’t feel like a stranger here.”
While it does snow in Syria, it’s nowhere near as much as Revelstoke.
“It’s been a shock,” said Amal. As of Jan. 17, acccording to data from the City of Revelstoke, 326 cm of snow has fallen on the city since November.
But even with the snow, the family plans to stay in Revelstoke.
“It’s the people that make me want to stay,” Amal said. She considered everyone in Revelstoke brothers and sisters.
“I cannot thank enough.”
The following is a letter from the family to Revelstoke:
Dear Revelstoke Citizens,
My family and I would like to thank all of you for the loving support that you have given to us over the past year. Your kindness has been shown in so many different ways. The people of the Revelstoke for Refugees committee have been wonderful in setting up our home, arranging English lessons, providing work opportunities and drivers for shopping and appointments. We would like to give a special thanks to Bud Kendall for helping Farhan with getting his driver’s licence Also, we want to thank the RSS teachers for their tremendous help and guidance that they have given to Hamza and Mohammad.
We are overwhelmed with the generous fundraising effort to pay for our flights to Canada. We were not expecting all this love and kindness from so many people we did not know personally.
At first, we were not expecting to survive in Revelstoke but with the love and friendliness that we feel from people, we have found ourselves able to complete some of our new life in Revelstoke. Even though there are no Arabic people or food here and lots of snow and cold, we are enjoying our time in our new home.
You have shown us love and have always given us tenderness and confidence. We have felt welcomed from the start. We wish we could give hugs and kisses to everyone that have been involved in our lives this past year.
Amal, Farhan, Hamza and Mohammad Alsowwan