BY KALISHA MENDONSA
It’s been six months since the Al Omar family settled into Lacombe and they have taken in many new experiences – some challenging, some more pleasant than others – but generally, they are getting used to their new life.
Bashar Al Omar, the patriarch of the family, is hard at work with a full-time job, and his wife, Naema, has a full plate with studies and four children under 10. The children, Ghazeye, 9, Jouliet, 7, Ibrahim, 5, and Mohamed, 4, are all adjusting to school or daycare at various levels.
The biggest challenge for the family has been the language barrier, as they want to become a part of the community but are still learning the language and patterns of everyday life.
With this constraint, translator Rhanda Bonet-Graham helped out to meet with the family and translate the interview.
“One of the things we are very thankful for is that our neighbours take the time to make us feel welcome,” said Naema.
“In Syria, you have family and friends coming and going from your house without a call or without asking. It’s very close. We know this is different than in Canada, so we’re even more appreciative when people make the time to come to the house, offer to help us, or just say something kind.”
Upon arrival to Canada, the family was shocked to be transported from airport to vehicle, shuffled between cities and thankful when they learned they would reside in Lacombe.
In Syria, where the family left five years ago, they had lived in a small, agricultural community not unlike many in Central Alberta.
Bashar, who loves animals, previously herded many sheep, gardened and built a life for his family as a farmer.
Naema is a loving mother, who has worked hard to raise her children and build their opportunities. Now, the family has had some time to take in the Canadian lifestyle and has learned to adapt to their new surroundings.
“We’re happy to have settled in Lacombe because it’s very similar to our old home in Syria,” explained Bashar.
“We had a farm, grew plants and raised animals, and were very involved with our neighbours and family and community.”
Bashar said the Syria they remember is a beautiful, peaceful, welcoming country that fell into an unfortunate reality as war moved through.
It became difficult to know who to trust, and the Al Omar parents decided they would leave to ensure a better life for their children.
They made the decision to leave Syria, finding a temporary home in a small farming community in Lebanon before coming to Canada, arriving May 26th of this year.
“We loved our home but we left for our children,” said Naema simply. “We wanted to give them the best life we could, and we’re very thankful to have ended up in Lacombe.”
The family is just like many others in the community, waking up early to scrape snow off of vehicles and hurry children to school buses.
Bashar and Naema attend English language courses on weekday nights and have a team of community members who help the family with their errands and everyday tasks.
The Lacombe Community Refugee Effort has been helping the Al Omar family with things like organizing and attending appointments, babysitting when necessary, friendly support and engagements, as well as more pressing matters such as health and dental needs and childcare organization.
As well, the group even hosted a surprise birthday tea event – and first birthday party – for Naema.
“It was a little overwhelming but it was so nice of the volunteers to do that for me,” Naema said with a smile.
Although there is much support for the Al Omar family, they still work very hard to make ends meet, save money and adapt to the new way of life.
One of the biggest changes is not having their family nearby.
“It’s very difficult to be away from our families. At work, I am alone through the day and outside of work, it can feel isolating to not speak the language or know people well,” explained Bashar.
He emphasized that the family is here to provide a good life for their four children, and that they are happy with their decision to come to Canada.
All of the Al Omar family misses their friends and previous life, but are confident they will continue to settle into Lacombe as time goes on.
In an effort to try and re-unite members of the family, the Lacombe Community Refugee Effort will continue their fundraising and application processes to either bring Naema’s sister or Bashar’s brother and their respective immediate families to Canada.
Updates will follow with specific fundraising initiatives.
Those who are interested in sponsoring, contributing a donation or joining up with volunteers with the Lacombe Community Refugee Effort can contact Marlene Ironside at email@example.com or by calling 403-350-1753, or Betty Cruickshank at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 403-782-5357.
“We are happy to be here in Lacombe. It’s a calm, welcoming community that reminds us in a way of our old home in Syria. We’re very thankful to everyone who has helped us – our translators, the (Lacombe Community Refugee Effort) group, neighbours and my boss,” said Bashar.
“We will continue to work hard and build our new life here.”