Lessons of openness and courage

Welcoming the 3rd family of Syrian refugees

"During our training sessions about welcoming Muslims, we were cautioned not to touch people of the opposite sex. You should have seen our surprised looks when the Alrayes family hugged us upon their arrival at the airport," said Sister Beverley Wattling.

Since then, the members of the sponsorship committee from Sainte Monica’s Parish in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce in Montreal can, on a daily basis, enjoy the attitude of openness shown by the members of the Alrayes family.  Despite all the suffering they have experienced in the last three years, each member of this family demonstrates an extraordinary sensitivity to others. They are a source of inspiration, not only by the courage they show, but also through this openness and sensitivity to others, as well as their interest in people that goes well beyond religious affiliation.

A long journey towards freedom

The members of the Alrayes family had to overcome a veritable obstacle course during the last number of years. The father, who first worked in construction and then as a vehicle driver linked to hospital services and the mother, a caterer, were forced to leave everything to save their lives and the lives of their four children.

Living as refugees in Jordan for three years, their situation there was not much better. The oldest boy, just 12 years old, found himself as the main source of support for the family by working in a grocery story. The father, who was experiencing problems with one of his legs, was limited in his search for work.

In addition to all the difficulties faced by refugee families in Jordan, the Alrayes family has had to overcome the anguish of endless waiting after making their application to enter Canada. The process was complex and lengthy, more than a year, causing moments of discouragement, moments which were shared in Quebec by the members of the sponsorship committee from Saint Monica’s Parish.

It required a lot of patience before, and even upon the arrival of the members of this family. In fact, following an administrative error at the Canadian embassy in Jordan, there was some frustrating red tape. The use of the same first name for the father and one of the sons was the cause for this confusion, which took more than a month to regulate in Canada.

However, despite the anxiety of waiting and the difficulties associated with adapting to a new environment while speaking neither French or English, the members of the Alrayes family could finally breathe again. You had to see how the members of the Syrian family were attentive to others. Visited at least once a day by a member of the committee or a friend of the group since their arrival on July 22, the members of the Alrayes family communicate via an interpreter, an application for translation on a smart phone or simply through signs.

”Reducing prejudice against the Muslim community”

Despite the language barrier, the visits are continuing to the Alrayes’ home, to get feedback, to help them in their dealings with the administrative or medical authorities and to familiarize them with their host society.

Despite the difficulties in communicating, visitors notice the strength of mind of the family members. During a meeting with two volunteers, the youngest daughter of the family showed her concern by taking an interest in the person who remained in the background. It was a good lesson in caring for others, of showing an interest in everyone who is present, regardless of religion, sex and language.

Aware of the major challenge imposed on them by choosing a Muslim family of six, including four children, speaking neither English nor French Sister Beverley is happy with their choice. "We are very pleased with the climate of mutual support between us and the family, with the opportunity to strengthen ties of friendship between Christians and Muslims and to do our part to reduce prejudice against the Muslim community.”

The initial contact at the airport and the further contact established on a daily basis demonstrates overall, that regardless of language, religion and social class it is important not to lose sight of what unites us as human beings.

There are still many challenges that lie ahead for all the members of the Alrayes family, including learning the language, adapting to a new environment and a new culture. Even so, in listening to Sister Beverley, we too have many things to learn from them, beginning by opening ourselves to the tragedies of all these men, women and children who are forced to abandon everything to save their lives.

Over the next few weeks, the children, as well as their parents, will attend literacy or integration classes to help them integrate.