After a year of study, Lena Alhamad, at the wheel, and her husband, Hussam Al Hassan, recently obtained their BC Driver’s licences. The parents of four children are thrilled by the welcome Salmon Arm has given them and are committed to giving back to the community.-Image credit: Jim Elliott/Salmon Arm Observer

Syrian mother gets behind the wheel

Ability to drive gives Salmon Arm newcomer and her husband more freedom

Lena Alhamad has accomplished what few Syrian women have.

This fall, a proud and delighted Alhamad earned her driver’s licence, two days after her husband Hussam Al Hassan succeeded in getting his licence.

As is the Muslim custom, a married woman retains her own name when matters pertain to her only. But as a family unit, the husband’s name takes precedence.

With a wide smile, Alhamad explains, in ever-improving English, that she likes everything about her new home – the people and the environment.

Sponsored by Shuswap Rotary, Alhamad came to Salmon Arm in February 2016 with her husband and sons Barkat, who is now eight, Moammar six, and Rimas, who is now three-and-a-half.

Fifteen-month-old Linda was born in Salmon Arm and is named after former Shuswap Rotary Club member Linda Wilson, who was instrumental in helping the Al Hassan family settle into the community. Wilson, who has since relocated to Victoria, became so close to the family that she is known as “Nana” to the Al Hassan children.

Being able to drive has given Alhamad the freedom to get herself and her children out and about within the community.

Going beyond city boundaries will be left until next spring when the snow is gone and roads are dry, says Sherry Gilroy, one of several Shuswap Rotary members who helped Alhamad learn to drive.

“It took quite a while to go beyond 10 kilometres in a parking lot,” laughs Gilroy, noting Alhamad’s initial mantra was “brake slow, gas go.”

Alhamad laughs too, as she recounts how nervous she was the first time she drove down Okanagan Avenue from the parking lot of the Community Church.

“We went too fast,” she says with wide eyes and a huge grin.

But a year after studying both the book and fulfilling practical requirements, Alhamad is proud of her driving skills and grateful to her ‘driving teachers’ that included Elaine Hansen, Leah Shaw and Indira Greenhough.

Eager to be self-sufficient members of the community, the couple continues to hone their English skills four days a week and Alhamad has also earned her FoodsSafe certificate.

Al Hassan works part-time with School District #83 and, proud of his wife’s excellent cooking, sees an ethnic restaurant in the couple’s future.

Gilroy says anyone who has tasted food prepared by Alhamad is eager for more. Some folks who know the family well have already, on occasion, called her to ask if she could prepare a “take-out” dinner for them.

And in an effort to give back to the community that has welcomed her, Alhamad donated a meal to Shuswap Rotary’s annual auction and will soon do the same for another local non-profit’s fundraising campaign.

Taking her cooking to the rest of the community is a longer-term dream. At this point, perfecting their English is the top priority for Alhamad and Al Hassan.

A look of relief crosses Alhamad’s face as she talks about living in a safe, welcoming community and how her older boys love soccer. A hockey fan, Barkat enjoys watching the game on TV and on testing his skills on PlayStation.

Gilroy says it is a far cry from the early days when Barkat and Moammar would look for a place to hide in response to loud sounds.

Alhamad’s joy at living in freedom and security is tempered by her experiences in her native Syria and fear for family members who remain in the war-torn country.

Alhamad was living in Aleppo with her mother-in-law while her husband worked in Lebanon when the brutal fight began between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and ISIS.

The situation was so dangerous that Alhamad lost her newborn son Hager. He died two days after being born because it was too dangerous to make the trip to the hospital for help. Hager would be four-and-a-half now.

She left Syria with Barkat and Moammar in 2013, joining Al Hassan in Lebanon. Her mother-in-law remains in her Aleppo home. Alhamad continues to grieve over her sister, who also lost a son, and two of her brothers who are missing. Another brother, his wife and four children are in a refugee camp in Turkey. It is Alhamad’s hope that they will one day come to Canada.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

While Revelstoke has one of the oldest bear awareness societies in the province, the city has yet to implement a community wide bear-proof garbage system. (Submitted)
Saving bears: Revelstoke’s garbage dilemma

More than 400 bears have been killed in the city since 1986

Your Columbia River Revelstoke candidates; Nicole Cherlet (NDP); Samson Boyer (Green) and Doug Clovechok (BC Liberal). The polls are closed and ballots being counted. (File photo)
BC VOTES: Clovechok preliminary winner with 52 per cent of the vote

35 of 77 polls have reported and The Canadian Press is calling Clovechok winner

Firefighters and RCMP are on scene at a fire on Douglas Street. (Jocelyn Doll - Revelstoke Review)
PHOTOS: Firefighters battling blaze on Douglas Street

RCMP are also on scene and blocking off access to the street

The Columbia River Revelstoke riding saw three candidates, Nicole Cherlet for the NDP, Samson Boyer for the Green Party and Doug Clovechok, incumbent, for the BC Liberals. (Jocelyn Doll/Revelstoke Review)
UPDATE: Polls now closed in 2020 provincial election

B.C.’s snap election has already broken records for advance voter turnout, mail-in ballots

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

Kelowna Secondary School. (SD23 photo)
One case of COVID-19 identified at Kelowna Secondary School

Interior Health will follow up directly with those who may have been exposed to the virus

BC NDP candidate Harwinder Sandhu offered praise to her team of volunteers (pictured Oct. 21), following a too-close race with BC Liberal and incumbent Eric Foster in the 2020 provincial election Oct. 24. The outcome will be dependent on the final count from mail-in ballots expected in three weeks. (Facebook)
‘Every vote counts’ in tight Vernon-Monashee race: NDP Harwinder Sandhu

Incumbent BC Liberal Eric Foster finishes election night with slim lead

The Independent Investigations Office of BC (IIO)
UPDATE: One dead after Highway 97A crash near Armstrong, police watchdog investigating

The crash happened as RCMP attempted to stop an alleged stolen vehicle

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

Most Read