By Sam Cooley
With the help of citizen and church groups, two Syrian refugee families who settled in Almonte may soon be re-united with the relatives they left behind—all within Mississippi Mills.
Though they come from different parts of Syria and are of a different faith, the Jarous and Mustafa families both fled their homes and escaped a civil war to eventually re-settle in Almonte. With two children in tow, they uprooted their lives and crossed the border into neighbouring countries, where they spent years living with no home before they were sponsored by local citizen and church groups.
These days, the Jarous and Mustafa families are living in Almonte where they’ve begun learning English and have jump-started the professions they had in their home countries.
Radwan Mustafa has a driver’s licence and has begun work as an upholsterer and Khedr Jarous has established himself at the Almonte Farmer’s Market.
According to James Moore, a lead organizer for the Holy Name of Mary sponsorship group responsible for helping the Jarous’ resettle, Jarous has recently opened a catering business, called Jessica’s Syrian food, named after his daughter. He’s been supplying the local population with a form of Middle Eastern cuisine that has arguably never been produced nor consumed within Lanark County.
“In fact, he’s the star attraction. [Jarous] is an expert in Syrian and Lebanese appetizers, in which there are thousands,” said James Moore, a lead organizer for the Holy Name of Mary sponsorship group responsible for helping the Jarous’ resettle.
Before the Jarous’ packed their bags and escaped Syria, they were living in a suburb of Homs, Syria, a major city that was devastated during the war. The first few years of their children’s lives were spent fleeing war and living in neighbouring Lebanon as refugees.
“Their first days of school are in Canada and it’s going really well,” Moore said.
Both families have been learning English since the beginning of the year. Two translators have also been available to help the families manoeuvre the more complex elements of living in a town that, for the part, doesn’t know Arabic. Unfortunately interviews with the families and interpreters could not be arranged in advance for this story.
A full year ago, a total of four church and citizen groups in Mississippi Mills came together with the intention of each sponsoring a refugee family independently. Only two groups immediately succeeded, and they have since used their connections to facilitate the re-settlement of the Jarous and Mustafa families’ siblings.
In this way, local groups have turned major bureaucratic setbacks into a success story. Dozens of volunteers donated to charity, gathered furniture, rented or bought buildings only to find out nobody was going to show up.
“We completed the paperwork and everything and found out (the refugees) changed their mind and decided not to come to Canada,” said Cathy Reside, a member of the Sponsorship and Resettlement committee of Mississippi Mills. “It was very disappointing…we were back to square one.”
All the groups have since combined forces and have moved on to sponsor the brothers and sisters of the Jarous’ and Mustafa’s. Khedr’s sister has similarly been displaced, and soon she may be living in Almonte as well. Likewise, Radwan and Amal Mustafa both have siblings who are married to each other, and local charity groups are sponsoring that family as well.
“The Mustafa family is Muslim, (Jarous is) Catholic. Over in the Middle East, as you know, they don’t get along. Here in Almonte, they’re getting along just fine,” said Moore, who added that the families talk to each other during language courses, which are taught locally.