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Syrian family 'turns new page' with life in Collingwood

Seven years after fleeing war, poverty, and danger in Syria, the Alshekho family have found a home – and family – in Collingwood.
Back row from left: Alaadin Ibrahim, Ahmad Alshekho, Rojin Mustafa, and Avjin Ibrahim. Front row from left: Cemile Ibi, Mustafa Alshekho, Abdullah Alshekho, Yasmin Alshekho, and Muhmmoed Alshekho. Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

A new Syrian family arrived in Collingwood this summer after more than seven years as refugees who fled their war-torn home country.

Ahmad Alshekho and Rokin Mustafa and their four children Mustafa, Yasmin, Abdullah, and Muhmmoed arrived in Canada in July. They landed in Mississauga at Pearson International Airport and were sent to Kitchener on a government sponsorship.

But Kitchener wasn’t the final stop. There was already a home and a welcome prepared for them in Collingwood.

The Collingwood Syrian Family Sponsorship Committee had been expecting the Alshekho family since December, 2018. Though the family was arriving on a government sponsorship, the committee quickly stepped in to volunteer time and donations to welcome the family.

The Ibrahims, Syrian refugees who came to Collingwood in 2018 and relatives of Rojin Mustafa, were also keen to help.

The Ibrahims had a rough start in Canada as government-sponsored refugees. They were sent to Saskatoon where they were largely left alone for several months with very little help with simple things like finding the grocery store or navigating public transit.

They found a different community in Collingwood where they were met by several community volunteers who helped them navigate and become part of the town.

Alaadin Ibrahim was determined to make sure the Alshekho family had it easy once they arrived to Canada.

“Everyone helps here, this is a good community,” said Ibrahim. He and his daughter, Avjin, helped translate for the Alshekho family in an interview with CollingwoodToday.

Sharon Stewart, one of the volunteers behind the Collingwood Syrian Family Sponsorship Committee, said she’s seen Alaadin taking care of the Alshekho family. She and other volunteers will often stop by to check in on each of the Syrian families. For new families, they will offer rides to grocery stores or appointments.

When the committee expected the Alshekho family in December, 2018, they gathered Christmas cards from local elementary students to welcome the new family. Stewart still has the pile of cards in envelopes. She said this December the Alshekho family will go visit the students who wrote them and open them together.

“It’s a good place,” said Ahmad Alshekho. “It’s safe, and people are nice.”

He said other than waiting for a very long time between finding out they would be coming to Canada and receiving their plane tickets, things have been easy for them.

When they first arrived, they noticed right away “everything was nice.”

Having their first experience in Canada be on a bright, sunny, July day, Ahmad said he expects winter will be nice too.

The Alshekho family left Syria more than seven years ago, before the war began. Ahmad said there were already impacts of fighting nearby - work and food were scarce, and poverty was rampant. He saw no opportunity for his family, so they moved to Iraq.

Ahmad is a carpenter and welder. He was able to find work in Iraq and his children could attend school.

But, he said, Iraq turned into Syria. There was war, criminals, the quality of education began spiralling, and school was often cancelled.

“It was not safe,” he said.

They applied four years ago through the United Nations for status as refugees. Once they learned their claim was excepted, they waited with excitement to come to Canada.

Here in Collingwood Rojin Mustafa has been reunited with her aunt, Cemile Ibi, who is Alaadin Ibrahim’s wife.

“I am very happy with the decision we made,” said Ahmad. “It is opening a new page in our lives.”

The Alshekho children are enrolled in school, and already idolize their cousin Avjin, and their aunt Cemile.

Mustafa is enrolled in soccer already, and is enjoying school. Yasmin is also in school and hoping to become a doctor one day. Ahmad and Rojin are enrolled in English as a Second Language training four days per week, and Muhmmoed is enrolled in preschool where his Aunt Cemile is his teacher. Abdullah loves his home and backyard, and Sharon Stewart.

Rojin loves nature, and Collingwood’s scenic waterfront, and Ahmad loves the beach.

The Alshekho family makes a total of seven Syrian refugee families now living in Collingwood, which includes 48 people.

Through funds raised and donated, the Collingwood Syrian Family Sponsorship Committee, has paid for things like driving lessons and daycare while the parents attend ESL classes.

“Thank you to everyone,” said Ahmad. “And number one to the community in Collingwood.”