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Nova Scotia Syrian Society enters contest to try and help their families

Group vying for $50,000 grant, launches $50,000 crowdfunding campaign

The Nova Scotia Syrian Society is trying to win $50,000 and raise another $50,000 to support families like Moustafa AlKrad’s.

AlKrad fled Syria with his family and spent six years in Jordan, before coming to Canada a little over a year ago.

“We have amazing work experiences,” he said in Arabic. “If we have the work opportunities, we can be financially stable.”

Nova Scotia has been welcoming Syrian refugees since 2015. There are currently hundreds of Syrian families living across the province.

The society is one of the finalists in Atlantic Canada in a contest called Here’s to Hometowns, sponsored by Pioneer Hi-Bred Canada Company. The prize is a $50,000 grant. They entered the contest after launching a $50,000 crowdfunding campaign earlier this year.

Government-assisted refugees only receive funding for their first year, which covers needs like dental care. After that, they are on their own.

Loai Al Rifai, a spokesperson for the society, said language barriers make finding a job difficult.

“They have problems finding jobs to start their lives,” said Al Rifai, noting many Syrians were doctors, engineers, teachers and skilled workers before the war.

“A lot of us started to work part-time jobs to support our families, but it is not enough.”

Al Rifai said the $50,000 from the contest would help hundreds of families and the larger community. They hope to build a school where children can learn Arabic full time. Currently, about 100 children take classes on the weekend, which are funded through donations.

The money would also help newly arrived families and budding entrepreneurs start small  businesses. Al Rifai said the idea is give a small amount of money to whoever needs it.

If they get the grant, the GoFundme would help with emergencies like dental care, hospital bills and school supplies.

Financial struggle

AlKrad, who has five children, said this kind of help is needed. He appreciates what he has in Nova Scotia, but it has been a struggle.

“It took us a huge amount of time to adapt and figure out people and places,” he said.

AlKrad and his wife Maisaa are thankful the Canada child benefit covers their living and children’s needs. However, his eldest will soon turn 18, which will impact how much they receive.

AlKrad suffered a stroke earlier this year, which left him not being able to speak or move for weeks. Now that he’s better he attends free workshops to improve his English-language skills, computer skills — anything to make him more employable. He also volunteers on weekends teaching Arabic.

A new school is a concern for AlKrad, who taught English in Syria.

“We want to have a better school where students can learn, enjoy their time and have a break area,” he said. “It is important for me as a teacher to understand what the child is feeling, if he or she is sad or happy.”

AlKrad is in the process of applying to become a substitute teacher with the Halifax Regional Centre for Education.

“I think my chances in life are getting better,” he said.

So far, about $8,000 has been pledged through the GoFundme. The Here’s to Hometowns winner is expected to be announced after Jan. 16.