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Joy looks the same in all languages – PEC Syria family update

A popular internet video (above) of Syrian refugee children getting their first taste of winter in Canada on toboggan rides is not unlike the joy expressed daily by the members of the Al Jassam family, now living in the County.

Robin Baranyai, of PEC Syria

Robin Baranyai, of PEC Syria

“You can see the glee on their faces. It is extraordinary,” said Robin Baranyai, a member of PEC Syria, who visited Picton Kiwanis Club members Monday to update the club on the progress of the family since they arrived Oct. 29.

Approximately 150 volunteers have joined the PEC Syria organization since it was formed last September following a Facebook post by founder Carlyn Moulton asking if anyone would like to help.

“Since 2011, 12 million Syrians have been forced from their homes and six million of those are children,” Baranyai said. “Our government has pledged to re-settle 25,000 by the end of February and then another 25,000 after that. We are proud to be helping as best we can.”

PEC Syria partnered with Lifeline Syria, Ryerson University and the Christie Refugee SAH to sponsor the family. Partnering means immediate help, whereas other routes could take one to two years for a family to arrive. Baranyai said Ryerson’s assistance includes handling the paperwork and also offers a network of Arabic-speaking people who are a phone call away.”

Most of the members of the family: Abdel Malek and his wife Sawsen, his mother Hadji, and their children Slieman, Ramez, Khatim, Ahmed, Rahef, Siham, Walaa, Alaa, Mijed, Bachar, and the baby Fadl pose for a photo. – Carlyn Moulton photo

Most of the members of the family: Abdel Malek and his wife Sawsen, his mother Hadji, and their children Slieman, Ramez, Khatim, Ahmed, Rahef, Siham, Walaa, Alaa, Mijed, Bachar, and the baby Fadl pose for a photo. – Carlyn Moulton photo

Just six weeks later PEC Syria welcomed Abdel Malek, his wife Sawsen, their 10 children and grandmother, to make a home in the County. PEC Syria has now formed four new groups of volunteers to faciliate the arrival of families – two in Wellington, one in Picton and one in the Carrying Place or Trenton area. As was the case for the Al Jassam family, arrival dates are unknown.

It is hopeful, Baranyai said, “to follow best practice of bringing relatives, so there may be that opportunity. We are doing our best but there are no guarantees. It will help that we already have this family here to help us settle coming families.”

 Abdel Malek showing a card welcoming the family to the County.

Abdel Malek showing a card welcoming the family to the County.

Baranyai shared photographs (shown here from the PEC Syria Facebook page) in her presentation of the Al Jassam family members easing into their new lives and spoke of the children being “super excited to see ‘Papa Noel’ at the Bloomfield Santa Claus parade, despite the evening’s cold and rain. When the snow finally arrived, they also enjoyed sledding, skating and movies over the holidays, complements of the Regent Theatre.

Slieman, Ramez with Matt-Ronan and friends with them for their first time on ice.

Slieman and Ramez with Matt Ronan and friends with them for their first time on ice.

“Thanks to the County’s arenas and recreation for collecting donations of used skates (as a resource for the whole community), the family was able to enjoy skating.”

Mijed, Bachar, Alaa, Siham, Walaa, and Rahaf on their first day of school at Pinecrest

Mijed, Bachar, Alaa, Siham, Walaa, and Rahaf on their first day of school at Pinecrest

The 11 children are between the ages of two and 18. Six are enrolled at Pinecrest elementary school and four at Prince Edward Collegiate Institute.

backpacks

“Seeing the children settled at school is wonderful,” she said. “Sonrise students fundraised and shopped for school supplies and backpacks for all of them. They were so happy to have them and are quite protective of them. The backpacks mean a great deal to them.”

Ramez talks to his class at PECI.

Ramez talks to his class at PECI.

They also enjoy swimming and Baranyai noted it was a joy to watch the children ride bicycles that were donated to the family.

PEC Syria raised more than $75,000 to sponsor the family and the funds are augmented with government funding, but beyond funds, the job of volunteers is of support – emergencies big and small, answering questions and guiding them to services, schools, and most importantly, making friends.

Baranyai told a few stories of her children socializing with the new family. She was told by one of the children “I am joyous. I have a friend.” The social connection, she said, is the most important element that will help the family.

She noted she is often asked about donations and directs people to the PEC Syria website. Clothing should be donated to the Hospital Auxiliary’s Second Time Around Shop in Picton as the family receives “coupons” to go to the store to shop for themselves.

“The goal is to support to achieve independence,” Baranyai said. “There is a legal commitment of 12 months be we don’t feel our moral commitment ends there. We didn’t anticipate how fiercely and deeply we would come to care about these people. I expect, and hope, to always be in their lives.”

While language is the biggest barrier, Baranyai reports all the family members are gaining on a good grasp of spoken English. They are receiving English as a Second Language classes and have a television and enjoy music – both sure-fire ways to assist with learning language.

Baranyai said that on the home front, the family quickly adopted the importance of conservation and has learned to recycle and compost and they put just one bag of garbage on the curb each week. They also do their laundry after 7 p.m. because they understand it is less expensive to use hydro in off-peak times.

She noted they have expressed desire to join the workforce and job hunting will follow in due course as their English improves and they become accustomed. “Sway, sway (little by little),” she said.

“For now, the family feels safe, warm and welcomed and they are overwhelmed with gratitude,” said Baranyai. “They find Canadians warm-hearted and welcoming. The contrast (to Syria) is not lost on them. When asked what is their favourite about Canada, they said ‘the people’. School and snow followed closely behind.

“It’s not only what we are giving, but what we are getting,” said Baranyai. “It’s OK if it’s not perfect. They are teaching us and we are teaching them and everybody works together.”

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  1. judy kennedy says:

    So pleased! I have been able to help in a small way and am glad I could.

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