Revelstoke will soon be home to a Syrian family of four.
The Alsowwan family will arrive at the Kelowna Airport on Jan. 21. They will stay for the night, go shopping for items they cannot get in smaller communities, such as halal meat and drive to Revelstoke the following day.
“They have been through traumatic times,” says Laura Stovel, from Revelstoke for Refugees. The organization held an information session at the library on the soon-to-be Revelstokians.
The family is from Homs, which is the third largest city in Syria. The City dates back to 1st Century BC. By comparison, Revelstoke was founded in 1880. Homs was under seige from May 2011 to May 2014.
The war in Syria has been ongoing since 2011. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimated in December 2018 that up to 560,000 people have so far been killed. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated in 2017 that the conflict has created more than 5,00,000 refugees.
For several years, life hasn’t been easy for the Alsowwan family.
Their first home was destroyed by tanks and so they moved. However, their second home was destroyed by shrapnel. And so they moved again. This time to Damascus. Yet the war followed and that home was also destroyed by air fire. And so the family moved to Jordan.
|Map of Syria. (Google maps)|
“They’ve lost a lot of richness in life,” says Stovel.
Revelstoke for Refugees have been talking to the family via Whatups and Google Translate for the past year.
The organization is a broad-based community group that formed in 2015. Initially led by Rana Nelson and joined by dozens of interested Revelstokians, the group responded to the federal government’s commitment to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of January 2016.
Revelstoke for Refugees chose to support the Alsowwan family’s application to come to Canada in 2017. The organization sponsored another Syrian previously that arrived in Revelstoke in 2017 and left last summer for city life.
Ferhan Alsowwan is the father. Back in Syria he was a baker and truck driver.
“He says he would like to be a driver here,” says Stovel.
In Jordan, he supported his family by working as a labourer, usually making less than minimum wage. The minimum wage in Jordan is roughly $350 per month. Ferhan has started to study English recently, loves soccer, and may be interested in coaching.
Amal Alsowwan is the mother. She has expressed interest it working with children or even opening a Syrian restaurant.
The family have two kids, Hamzah and Harmoodi Alsowwan. Hamzah is 17 years-old, loves theater and may be interested in acting. Harmoodi is almost 15 years-old and loves to bike. With Revelstoke’s drama club and bike trails, hopefully the pair will find something that appeals to them.
Revelstoke Property Services helped find the family an apartment and volunteers cleaned, moved furniture and set up the new home.
Many organizations, businesses, and individuals have provided support and funds in helping set up the family’s new home. For example, the Mt Revelstoke Quilt Guild have donated three quilts for the family. One for each son and one for the parents.
The family will be provided with a monthly allowance for one year that will cover rent, hydro, and grocery bills.
“We want to set them up for success after sponsorship is over,” says Stovel.
Of course, moving to Revelstoke will not be easy. For one, it’s winter.
“Just walking on ice will be a big shock,” says Stovel.
It’s possible that helicopters for heliskiing and avalanche control could also re-trigger memories of the homes they’ve left behind. Homes that were destroyed by helicopters.
Revelstoke for Refugees say that if you see the family in town, please say hi. And tell your friends.
“We want them to feel safe,” says Stovel.
Stovel says after they’ve settled, if people are interested, they can reach out to the family.
Invite them for dinner, hikes, driving lessons, or even if you’re going to Salmon Arm or Vernon and have the space take them along to visit other Syrians.
Revelstoke for Refugees did provide some information for proper greetings. In Syria, there is no cross-gender hugging or touching. Placing the right hand over the chest is an appropriate greeting for both genders.
“They may not look at you directly in the eye, but this is a sign of politeness and respect,” says Stovel.
Revelstoke for Refugees are still looking for the following items to help the family settle:
- first aid kit
- two small desks and chairs
- stepping stool for kitchen
- iron and ironing board
- boot tray
- coffee table
- large frying pan
- grips for boots
- laptop (for the boys’ schooling)
If you have any of the above items and would like to donate, contact Laura Stovel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Revelstoke for Refugees says they are touched by the out pour of support from the community.