Many of us will spend the Thanksgiving holiday with our family and loved ones. We’ll take a moment to appreciate the lives we enjoy and the everyday things we sometimes take for granted.

For the Al Saraheen family, every day for the last year has felt like Thanksgiving. It was a little more than a year ago when our city welcomed them with open arms when they thought the rest of the world had forgot them.

The story of Fadil, his wife Roza, and their six children, started in Syria. Fadil owned a furniture and home decor store. It spanned five floors and was known locally as the Princess. His seven brothers, one sister, and his mother, lived in Syria as well. The family prospered and life was good.

But the civil war in Syria changed their lives drastically. Fadil’s city was the first to experience the bombing. His store was reduced to rubble. Roza lost her hearing from the blasts. The family fled before they were killed like so many other Syrians.

Fadil took his mother, wife and children to Lebanon where life was difficult. They were not allowed to work or drive. The children were forbidden from going to school and a strict curfew was enforced. They lived in a tiny apartment that felt like a jail, says Fadil. Twelve-year-old Azam was sent out each day to buy food with the money they received from the UN. As a young boy, he attracted less attention from the authorities. It was too dangerous for the adults to leave their apartment.

That was their plight for four years. Near the end, Fadil, desperate to protect his family, made arrangements for the family to escape to Turkey by boat, a treacherous journey many others had not survived. As Fadil agonized over his decision, he got a call, Canada was ready to welcome them. It was the best news they had ever received, although it meant leaving behind Fadil’s youngest sister. The 22-year-old woman is still in Lebanon. Every two hours, Fadil’s mother calls to ensure her daughter is safe.

After a 12-hour flight, the family arrived in Ottawa last May. The Catholic Centre for Immigrants was there for them. We helped them find a home, open a bank account, enroll the children into school, and offered programs and workshops to help them adjust to daily life in Canada. We taught them how to navigate their new community.

Fadil is taking English language lessons in hopes of opening another store. His children are in school and have made many friends. This summer, several of the children took swimming lessons. Roza is scheduled for an operation the family hopes will restore her hearing.

They want to integrate into Canadian society quickly and become independent and self-sufficient. When Fadil opens his store, he’ll be able to hire others, pay taxes and give back to a community that has given them so much.

They’re excited about embracing Canadian traditions and learning more about our culture. “Liberty, freedom, this is what Canada means to me,” Fadil says. “We feel like human beings. Canada is the best place in the world.”  

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