Mohammad Al Lwisi, his wife Nesreen Nehme and their children arrived in Oliver in December, after a group of local citizens fundraised, sponsored the family and set them up in their new home.
The arrival signaled the start of a new life for a family that had fled war-torn Syria, but it was somewhat bittersweet.
For some reason, Mohammad’s mother Khadijeh, brother Ahmed and sister Maria had been left off the application, and the family was forced to separate.
On Feb. 28, two more members of the Al Lwisi clan made it to Oliver after their plane touched down in Penticton.
Mohammad, Nesreen and their kids Yazan, Ghazal and Manessa were reunited with Mohammad’s brother, Ahmed, and mother, Khadijeh.
Now, after months of work, Mohammad is finally under the same roof as his brother and mother. His sister is likely soon to follow.
The Al Lwisi house was bustling when we met them in late March, as the whole family – minus a few napping children – gathered in their spacious living room.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Mohammad said of having his extended family with him.
Life with his mom and brother around is “100 per cent different,” he said. Not only does he know they are safe, but spirits are lifted now that (almost) everyone is together.
“All the family living together is very good. Eating together and going outside,” he said, adding that with his mother Khadijeh providing extra support looking after the kids, everyone has more freedom.
Nesreen and Khadijeh have started attending weekly cooking classes, where they experiment with different international cuisines. Nesreen admitted that Chinese cuisine was okay, but with a smile said her favourite is still Syrian.
Ahmed and Khadijeh’s English is limited, so they spoke in Arabic about arriving in Canada, as Mohammad interpreted.
Mohammad explained that both appreciated almost beyond words that, in Canada, “Nobody looks at us as bad, like we are Syrian, or refugees or anything else.”
He explained that before they made it to Canada, living as a refugee was difficult and dangerous.
They waited for years for visas in Turkey, and during that time Ahmed was unable to go to school because local kids would bully him into staying away.
“Most of all, it’s safe here,” Mohammad said.
He also explained how surprised Ahmed and Khadijeh were to find their family living in such nice conditions. Most refugees believe that they would be put up in hotels or camps when they arrive in their new country, and Mohammad said that no matter how many times he explained that they lived in a spacious house, with a car, his mom and brother didn’t really believe it until they arrived.
“Finally they arrived and found a big house,” he said, chuckling.
But the new arrivals are already beginning to settle in: Ahmed has enrolled in school to finish the education he was denied in Turkey, and boasts that he has some serious soccer skills he would like to put to use in Canada.
“Next Team Canada star,” Nesreen explained, showing a comfort with English that has grown significantly since she began attending classes shortly after she arrived.
She said she and Khadijeh would also like to someday host a cooking lesson for Oliver residents, to introduce them to Arabic cuisine.
Mohammad said the family plans to relax and enjoy the relative quiet of their new life for the next few months.
His kids are doing well in school – just that day eight-year-old Yazan asked in English to go outside – and Mohammad has begun searching for a job.
He said he couldn’t thank the people of Oliver enough for everything they have done for him and his family.
By Trevor Nichols