Revelstoke for Refugees will welcome its first sponsored refugee next month.
Sam Al Ashaoush, 23, is expected to arrive in Revelstoke in December.
The group, which began two years ago in response to the refugee crisis, has made efforts previously to bring a Syrian family to town, but they fell through in 2016 when the family withdrew their application.
In April this year, Revelstoke for Refugees chose another family of four – The Alsowwans – and they are still expected to arrive, though there is no update on the progress.
While they were being selected, Rana Nelson, co-chair of Revelstoke for Refugees began looking at some other options to bring a Syrian refugee to Revelstoke.
“There was a blended visa process, which people would put their names forward and they were pre-approved by the government,” says Laura Stovel, co-chair of Revelstoke for Refugees. “The process was much faster.”
Al Ashaoush, a 23-year-old gay male, is looking forward to his move to Canada.
In a letter written by Al Ashaoush and shared with the Revelstoke Review, he writes: “Now I’m writing those words, I wish the time passes quickly and be in Canada, to feel the feeling that I did not feel in all my life which is safety.
“I am not a man and I am not a woman. I am a human being.”
He writes that he was born in a mountainous city called Suwayda, in the south of Syria.
“But unfortunately I did not belong to people there. I belonged to the mountain nature,” he writes. “I was exposed to many bad things there and persecutions from everyone around me.”
Al Ashaoush is an artist and enjoys yoga and preparing healthy food.
“We felt that Sami as a single gay male is somebody who might fit in well in Revelstoke,” says Stovel, “and that we would have something to offer him.”
She says that Revelstoke has had an LGBTQ organization in the past and that Al Ashaoush has expressed interest in being an advocate for LGBTQI rights.
“His letter indicates that he hasn’t felt like he can be himself in Syria and has suffered trauma as a result of that and that’s complicated by the war,” says Stovel. “We felt that we’re a pretty open and nurturing community and that he might do well.”
Al Ashaoush is currently in Lebanon. While the paperwork on the Canadian end is sorted out, he is still waiting on an exit visa, says Stovel.
Stovel and Al Ashaoush communicate using WhatsApp, an instant messaging and voice-over-IP service.
She recently asked if he would be bringing his art to Canada – Al Ashaoush creates mixed media pieces using paint and recycled materials.
He said he wouldn’t be bringing those, but that he would be bringing friendship bracelets, which he also likes to create.
When Al Ashaoush arrives, he’ll be staying with Stovel for the month of December.
“I’m really looking forward to that and introducing him to Christmas in Revelstoke and showing him around,” she says.
The organization is looking for accommodations for him for January. Somewhere he would be able to live alone and that has reasonable rent. From February on, he has a place to stay.
On Dec. 5, Revelstoke for Refugees will be hosting a general information session from 5 p.m. on at the MacPherson Room at the Revelstoke Community Centre. Members of the organization and the public are invited to attend. From 6 to 7 p.m., Stephanie Melnyk, victim services coordinator will host a workshop on trauma-informed support.
“Sami has had some challenges in being accepted for who he is back home and I hope that Revelstoke will embrace him and welcome him,” says Stovel. “I think he has a lot to share with us and we can learn a lot from him.”
Read Sam Al Ashaoush’s letter in full:
I am not a man and I am not a woman. I am a human being. I am Sam, 23 years old. I was born in Syria in a mountainous city called Suwayda. But unfortunately I did not belong to people there. I belonged to the mountain nature. I was exposed to many bad things there and persecutions from everyone around me.
Soon I will arrive to a country which symbol is a leaf of nature. This thing attracts me very much to be an active person, to be that person who is classified in his actions, his work, his ethics, his humanity, not his shape, his tendencies and his race. He has a liberal and renewed thought.
I love art in all its forms: painting, designing and manufacturing of handicrafts.
I studied psychology at the University of Damascus in Syria but I couldn’t graduate because of the war in Syria. I am a very frank person and I hate lying.
Yoga exercises are my favorite. I love to wear strange clothes sometimes and high heels. And to prepare healthy food. I have many recipes which are healthy and appeti(zing).
Now I’m writing those words, I wish the time passes quickly and be in Canada, to feel the feeling that I did not feel in all my life which is safety.
My regards to you.