BY RYAN WELLICOME
The Al Omar family have been in Lacombe for over two months now and are settling well into their new home.
The family arrived in Lacombe on May 26th via Calgary after fleeing their home in Syria five years ago.
“Thank goodness, we have adapted very well,” said the family’s matriarch, Naeema.
Bashar, the family’s patriarch, said they have been welcomed with open arms by residents of Lacombe.
“We have received an extremely warm welcome. It was so unexpected. We never felt like foreigners or outsiders. We felt right at home and people treated us like we were part of their family,” he said.
The family said that one of the hardest mountains to climb is the language barrier. Bashar and Naeema were taking English as a Second Language (ESL) courses through the Central Alberta Refugee Effort (C.A.R.E.) in Red Deer, but have since stopped.
They were taught by a teacher who only knew Arabic as a second language so they felt it was hard to properly learn English.
Despite the small setback, they are learning much from everyday experiences like conversations or outings.
Bashar said that just speaking with members the Lacombe Community Refugee Effort committee has been more helpful than anything else.
On outings, the family is usually accompanied by one of two interpreters, Rhanda Bonet-Graham and Mazen Al Jarrah, whom have been working with the Al Omars since their arrival.
They help the family overcome language barriers when essential tasks must be performed – tasks such as grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments and trips to the bank.
For Bashaar, because of the language barrier, finding employment has been a challenge but he has had some success.
He has been able to find casual work with help from the committee including landscaping and yard work, tree trimming, planting and performing labour on a chicken farm.
Since the family arrived in late May, the two girls, Ghazeye, 9, and Juliet, 7, were able to attend the final few weeks of the school year while the two younger boys, Ibrahim, 5, and Mohammad, 4, will attend kindergarten and preschool, respectively, in the fall. The children were able to introduce themselves in English with much enthusiasm.
The family lived in the city of Idlib, close to the Turkish border in northwestern Syria. Before the civil war, the Idlib region was an agricultural hub and had been since the Bronze Age.
While is Syria, Bashar worked in the agricultural sector and in construction.
During the 2011 uprising in Syria, Idlib was one of the earliest focal points of protests and eventual fighting.
The city became the birthplace of a rebel campaign that briefly took the city prior to a government offensive in 2012.
The Al Omar family witnessed violence of the kind that has long-lasting effects. “You would be drinking tea and then all of a sudden a bomb would hit a building,” said Naeema. “If the army would like your house, they would kick you out and take it.
“There was no security, no safety, no value for human life.”
Bashar said the moment in which he knew he and his family must leave was the moment in which he witnessed the deaths of his close friends. He sought to find a better home for his family; a place where they could be free of fear and oppression.
He travelled to the mountainous northern region of Lebanon.
There he was able to find some agricultural work and was eventually able to find a place to live.
A year later, Naeema and the children were able to join him in Lebanon.
But life as a Syrian refugee in Lebanon proved equally as trying. Since Idlib was the focal point of many early rebel offences and the Lebanon-based Shi’a Islamist militant group Hezbollah supported the Syrian government, refugees were seen as sympathizers to the opposition and were branded as outsiders and terrorists.
Refugees were also blamed following deaths of the members of Hezbollah.
Bashar said that refugees were treated with disdain and even violence. He said that tents would be set alight and indiscriminate killing was commonplace. “It was a very cruel life but thank goodness<s