Catholic Vancouver February 21, 2018
Another gift for refugee kids: their Syrian culture
NEW WESTMINSTER—They fled Syria to save their lives, but now a family in New Westminster is faced with another challenge: saving their culture.
Amin Akfali and Angel Khazoum arrived in Canada 1 1/2 years ago with their young daughter, Elena. Like many Syrian parents, they were seeking a better life for their small family.
“When she was born, she was little. She couldn’t understand anything. She would hear something, but it didn’t matter to her. But for the first year of her life, from 0 to 1 year old, there was no electricity in Syria in our city. It was cold and it was hard for us to keep her healthy,” said Khazoum, her mother.
“When she started to grow up, she started to understand what happened. She asked us: ‘Why is it destroyed here? What is this sound?’ It was rockets. I was afraid. She could see that.”
So, the young couple from Aleppo sought a safer place to raise their baby girl. About three years after the war began, they moved to another Syrian city, hearing it was more secure.
“The situation was not safe. There were explosions here and there around us, around our home. Sometimes, I would go to work and didn’t know if I would come back home,” said Akfali.
“We tried to be patient. Maybe the situation in Syria would be better? But every day, the situation became worse, until we made a decision to move out.”
They moved cities again and then went to Lebanon. Eventually they were sponsored by the Archdiocese of Vancouver and Our Lady of Mercy Parish for resettlement in Canada.
That was 1 1/2 years ago. Now, Elena is in kindergarten and they have a baby son, Mark.
“I’m feeling good because here, he will live in safety,” said Akfali.
Akfali said Canada has become his country. He’s learned English, has a steady job, and worked out how to use local public transportation. But as his children grow up, he and Khazoum can’t help but teach them about Syria, too.
“It’s difficult for us. Our memory is in our country, but they will grow up here,” said Akfali. “Our children can have a good school, good education, good certificate, maybe a good job. It’s good for them, but hard for us.”
Since she’s gone to school, Elena’s English is so good, she corrects her parents. But she’s also learning Arabic at home, and when Mark is old enough to speak, he will too.
“Our cousin and parents in Syria don’t know English,” said Akfali. “It’s good for him, if he needs to speak to our community, to speak Arabic.”
The father is optimistic that teaching his children two languages (perhaps three; his wife is fluent in French) will benefit them in the long run. “Maybe in the future, they can use this in their education and their job.”
But, he admits would be difficult for him to see their children favouring Canadian traditions over their own. He wonders if Elena or Mark will embrace their Syrian heritage as they grow up.
“We try to save the culture, but we can’t. It’s a different culture. We will try, but it depends if they like it or not.”
They are trying to connect with other Syrian families in New Westminster, hoping to keep their language, culture, and traditions alive here.
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