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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

The Translator

Geraldine Malone
Published Thursday March 3, 06:55 pm
Fahad Al-Ani helps Syrian refugees become new Canadians

The 25,000th Syrian refugee to arrive in Canada since November touched down in the Great White North at the end of February. While many are celebrating the end of the first phase of the resettlement program, for those on the frontlines — the people helping new Canadians navigate our strange, cold country — the real work has just begun. 

Fahad Al-Ani, 27, immigrated to Canada from Iraq when he was 16. After the first few years in Ontario and acquiring a degree from Brandon University in Manitoba, he moved to Saskatoon as a business manager a year-and-a-half ago.

One day at his mosque, he heard that there was a need for translators who knew Arabic and he quickly got involved.

As a volunteer working with local not-for-profits, Al-Ani has been with new Canadians navigating grocery stores, driver’s education training, and tackling the city’s always confusing public transportation. Recently, Al-Ani joined a group of new Canadians at the Lawson Heights Mall where they held signs which read things like “Thank you Canada” and handed out flowers.

I sat down with Al-Ani to talk about the journey here and the steps our new neighbours are just beginning to take.

What are some of the basic things that new Canadians have to face when they come here?

If they speak English they will be just fine, right, but the biggest thing is the English barrier. Some of them don’t even know what “hello” is right now, so you would have to translate to them.

Other things would be taking the bus, getting their driver’s licence. A lot of them they just want to get into society and be part of the society but it’s not easy to do that.

In every community, in every country there are positive and negative people. Obviously there are some negative people here who don’t welcome them, so they say “go back to your country” and things like that. These are things new Canadians take to heart and they don’t like.

But they are always thinking in a positive way. They don’t want things to get to them, so what they do is they go and hand out flowers. They go and thank people for the opportunity. They are very nice, simple, grateful, humble and they just are here for an opportunity.

It seems like it’s been a really quick process, but for the new Canadians it may have taken years. What does it feel like being here now?

They didn’t just overnight come to Canada. They had to go to multiple refugee camps — whether it’s in Jordan, Lebanon, some went to Iraq, or Turkey — so they’ve been through a lot.

It was an over two-year process for most of them, and some were living in bad refugee camps and in poor Middle Eastern countries. Even things like water or bread were not accessible to them or were hard for them to get.

So coming to Canada here and getting all of the support — not only government support, but support from the community and the society — you know… Whether it’s a mom who lost her husband in the war and she now is here with five kids or it’s a family of six people living in a two-bedroom apartment with no dining room table, they are very grateful and thankful that they are here.

Now, the Syrians want to do something to pay back the people who have helped them. They see people coming to the airport and people really trying to help, and they will make sure that they are successful in this society so they can give something back to this community.

What are the weirdest things causing culture shock from Canadian culture?

A lot of people are fascinated by the snow and the sun. Because normally when it snows in their countries, it snows probably once a year and everybody gets a holiday, nobody goes to school and nobody goes to work, so what they are really surprised about is how it’s snow everywhere but there is still sun.

Pedestrian crossings — in their country normally they have bridges, or people cross with traffic lights only. Here, there are pedestrian crossings and someone presses that button and all of the cars have to stop. That’s something big to then. All the cars stop just so this person can cross the street. Things like that, little things like that, we all tend to laugh about.

What are the next steps for the families?

A lot are going to non-profit organizations to work on their English and their resumes. They are really eager to find jobs and get out there and help themselves and their community. They don’t care what they do as long as they are on a payroll of some sort.

One of the families that I work with the father he says “you know what, it was nice of the Canadian government to bring us here and we don’t want to add more load on their plate.” He’s like, “we are here we can handle ourselves. I’m here, I’m going to look day and night to find a job.”

This interview has been edited for style and length.

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