NEW LIFE - The Al Omar family arrived in Lacombe last Thursday after living in a Lebanon refugee camp. The parents and four children were exhausted after their long journey and looked relieved to have arrived in their new community.

The first Syrian refugees finally arrive in Lacombe

Community Refugee Effort committee helping family adapt

With only a few small suitcases and extreme jet lag, Lacombe’s Syrian refugee family finally landed in Calgary last Thursday afternoon from a Lebanon refugee camp and made the journey to Lacombe.

The Al Omar family of six has been expected since February, according to co-organizer Marlene Ironside, when plans for a previous refugee family to come to the City did not work out.

“The family was supposed to arrive in February within the 25,000 refugees that the government was hosting and that family actually got cold feet and decided not to come. Literally, cold feet, they thought it was winter all year round.”

The Lacombe Community Refugee Effort committee has been organized since October, and in only a few short months, thanks to fundraising and volunteers, the Syrian family arrived to a warm, furnished home the evening they landed inCalgary. Cleaners came into the home and helped paint the walls, mop the floors, organize furniture, organize groceries anything the committee thought would make the family more comfortable.

Although the family will be the soul tenants of the home, for the next couple of weeks there will be quite a few visitors,mainly in regards to orientation and assistance.

We do just want to give them time to go through the house, sort through things, go through their clothes. They also need to learn how to work the showers, dishwashers we don’t know if they know how to use things in the house. People have tobe here to help.

We have donated bus passes from the junior high and we need to take them to the bus and ride it with them a time or two. We don’t know if they know how to use a barbecue; there’s just so many things that we don’t know if they’re culture has,” said Ironside.

She explained the committee does not wish for the family to feel isolated in the least.

“There are endless worries. One of them being they will become overwhelmed and sick and tired of all of us. There are so many of us and we all want to be involved and we don’t want them to feel isolated because we see things in the news that a family or particularly a male family member gets isolated, can’t communicate well enough and feels that his leadership role doesn’t exist anymore. We want to try and help in such a way that they adapt.

For the next couple weeks the will be provided with doctors’ appointments for initial check-ups, bus passes and health care numbers. They will also meet with a bank and there will be many more appointments that will set up the family for their lifein Canada.

The family will be getting federal funding, in the same amount as social services cheque, for six months where after, the committee will be responsible for any further funding. However, Ironside said the committee plans on setting the parentsup with jobs.

“We’ve already been informed that the father has experience in construction and agriculture work. One of the ladies on the committee is on a farm and said they’ll take him out there to do some training, so I think a certain amount will come from individuals rather than the employment agency.”

From what is known to Ironside, the father knows some English from previous jobs in Syria but other than that, the family has no extensive knowledge of the language. With that reasoning, the schools which will be enrolling the older children have already begun programming to be prepared for when the children begin school.

Ironside has given presentations to the students and teachers, letting them know what to expect and how to support these refugee children along with their families.

“Kids want to be friendly and accepting so I asked them what does that look like? The kids said things like smile at them,making eye contact, don’t look away, smiling is universal, you can say hi they’ll have that word in no time. Don’t expect alot of conversation but don’t be afraid to look at them, smile and gradually they’ll get used to us.”

Last Thursday, few members of the committee along with Ironside waited patiently, yet with excitement, on the arrival of the family. The ladies cooked chicken soup with familiar Syrian spices, rice, pitas, fresh fruit and set the table in awelcoming manner.

Then the wait began.

Finally, after almost three hours after the plane landed, a van pulled into the driveway where committee members met the family of six. Two girls, ages eight and seven; two boys, ages five and three and their two parents. Committee members and a translator from Lacombe explained the family was carrying only a few pieces of luggage, and the parents did not rest the entire journey from Lebanon to Syria.

The children smiled shyly at the members, but heavy eyelids were difficult to disguise. Shortly after arriving and after a quick tour of their home, the Al Omar family opted for sleep before a meal and the committee left the family to spend the night in their new home.

Ironside was excited to see them arrive safely and is pleased with how the community has stepped up to help.

“You occasionally hear something negative about bringing this family into the community but overall the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Like I said, I have all these school groups that want to help, more than 80 people in the community wanting to help. Just very positive Lacombe is amazing.”

She added if anyone is interested in joining the committee in any way, they are welcome to email her at marleneironside@gmail.com

shelby.craig@lacombeexpress.com