CCI Volunteer Anas Wess knows what it’s like to have dreams disrupted by the war in Syria. But his message to other Syrian newcomers is:  Canada is a place where you can rebuild your dreams.

Anas was in the middle of his fourth year of his medical studies in Aleppo when the civil war in Syria broke out. While volunteering with the trauma team at Aleppo University General Hospital, and as a paramedic for the local branch of Red Crescent, he was able to continue his studies for another year, until the conflict made it impossible to stay. He was able to complete his final year, which involved rotating through each branch of medical practice, in England, but his hopes to return to Syria to graduate diminished as the conflict continued, with bombings and shootings daily.

He was fortunate that his father had previously begun the process to immigrate to Canada, with his family receiving landed status in 2010. He was able to apply through the Canadian branch in Toronto of All Saints University, School of Medicine, in the Caribbean country of Dominica, which accepted his transcripts. Through All Saints, Anas was able to complete the clinical rotations he required, in Canada and the U.S. and to achieve his medical degree.  While it has been a long road that included having to re-do credits he had already completed, and to write special exams in order to be allowed to apply for residencies, Anas says he has no regrets.   “Never give up on what you are dreaming of achieving,” he says, describing a process of “finding a solution from a different angle.”

The Catholic Centre for Immigrants helped Anas with the preparation for his residency interviews. The one-on-one sessions “really gave me a lot of motivation and belief that I could do it.” And he has given back, volunteering with a research project on refugees’ health care decisions, where he used his Arabic language skills to translate material and help answer refugee health care questions.

Anas has also helped with CCI’s skating program, assisting Arabic-speaking refugees as they find properly-fitting ice skates. While he hasn’t tried ice skating himself yet, he is eager to see how it compares with roller skating, which, along with basketball, is a sport he enjoys.

But in the end, he wants his fellow Syrians in Ottawa to be hopeful, despite their culture shock and dislocation, which he, too, has experienced. While he has had opportunities that come with being an immigrant rather than a refugee, he believes that “in Canada you can achieve your dream.”  In his case, his dream to be a trauma surgeon in a teaching hospital is closer at hand than it’s ever been.