The Al Ahmad family can’t wait until they are eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship. That’s how much their new country means to them.

Mahmoud and his wife Mona had a typical life in Syria. Mahmoud went to work each day as a long-haul truck driver, a job that took him to Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Mona was busy raising their five children — Nour 18, Ghaidaa 17, Solaiman, 16, Mohammad 14, and Khaled 10. They had a stable life filled with family, love and hope for the future.

But that all changed when Syria was plunged into a civil war. When the violence erupted, Mahmoud sent his family to Jordan while he stayed behind. For two tension-filled months, they were separated until Mahmoud realized the war wasn’t going to end any time soon. As cities turned into rubble, as thousands were killed, Mahmoud joined the millions of Syrian refugees who fled the violence. He sold the family car and abandoned the house where his children had grown up. They left everything behind.

Life was not easy in Jordan. With so many other refugees, there wasn’t enough work. There were many nights the family went to bed not knowing if they were going to have any food the next day. Mahmoud tried but couldn’t find work. He was devastated he couldn’t support his family. Mahmoud describes the four years in Jordan as miserable.

After applying for refugee status, they finally got a call from Canadian officials that they could rebuild their lives in Canada. Mahmoud says there were shouts of joy and lots of hugging after the phone call that changed their lives. A month later, January 2016, they arrived in Canada. “We got off the plane and it was cold and snowing but we were so happy,” says Mahmoud. However, adjusting to life in a new and strange country was difficult.

The Catholic Centre for Immigrants was there for them when they arrived at the airport. From day one, we ensured they had a roof over their heads until we found them a permanent home. We helped them obtain important documents such as their health care cards. We helped them with the everyday things we take for granted like opening a bank account, enrolling the children in school, and offering programs and workshops to help them adjust to daily life in Canada. We taught them how to navigate their new community.

They love Canadians for their kindness and “the education for the children is very good,” says Mona. Khaled, who is in Grade 5, says he loves math, health, and English. The oldest daughter, Nour, wants to be a pharmacist while Ghaidaa has plans to study journalism. The oldest son, Solaiman, wants to be a police officer. Mohammad dreams of becoming a professional soccer player in Europe. All the children are speaking English and have many friends in school.

Mahmoud recently completed his training to be a transport truck driver in Canada and is working to improve his English skills so he can get a full-time job, support his family and give back to his new country.

He says he and his wife would love to make some Canadian friends who can teach them more about our culture. And they’re going to apply for Canadian citizenship as soon as they are eligible. “This is our country now.”

In the New Year, Mahmoud and Mona will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. They’re happy to be marking this special milestone in their new country.