A Syrian refugee family is learning to adapt to small-town life after arriving in Nova Scotia in February.
Basem AlMethyb, his wife Rania, and their four children have been welcomed by residents of New Glasgow, thanks to Trinity United Church minister Donna Tourneur and her congregation.
During the height of the refugee crisis last fall, Tourneur began raising money to sponsor the AlMethybs.
The family made the hard decision to flee Syria after Basem’s brother died. Wiping away tears, Rania said she and her children miss everything about Syria — “food, family, friends.”
In February, Tourneur’s group greeted the family at the Halifax airport.
“It was pretty amazing,” she said. “You don’t forget those moments.”
The AlMethyb family is among 19 Syrians — three households — who live in New Glasgow.
According to the 2011 Census, there were only four areas in the province that had any Syrian representation. The Pictou County town of New Glasgow was not one of them.
This map shows the number of Syrians living in Nova Scotia at the time the last census was conducted. Only Halifax, Inverness, Canso, and Cape Breton had any Syrian representation.
The AlMethybs have settled in a town without an existing Middle Eastern community. However, Tourneur knew the family’s adjustment would be made easier by how New Glasgow received them.
“If your goal is to build a new life in Canada, they had everything you need to build a new life,” Tourneur said.
Life in Canada
Each Friday morning at the Trinity United Church, the AlMethyb family members have been learning how to speak English.
Tourneur said that their English has been steadily improving, even though they need to rely on gestures, props, and Google Translate every now and then.
Rania AlMethyb wants to continue with school long after the family’s English-language classes end.
“I want to go back to school and help children (with English) in school,” she said.
New Glasgow only has a few Arabic speakers outside the Syrian families, which means the AlMethybs will have no choice but to practice every day, Tourneur said.
Still, Tourneur said the community has come together to make the AlMethybs feel like they already belong here.
Since the town doesn’t have a mosque, Trinity United Church has offered them space for daily prayer. Locals have also volunteered to drive the family into Halifax to see doctors, dentists, and to buy Middle Eastern food.
The AlMethyb family live rent-free in a fully furnished house that was donated by a former resident.
Planning for the future
But, Basem AlMethyb thinks about moving to Halifax one day, or maybe even Montreal “where they speak French.”
Tourneur said that she isn’t expecting the AlMethyb family to stay in New Glasgow forever, especially given how hard it is to find work in the area.
Basem said he would like to work as a taxi driver while Rania stays home with the children.
Back in Syria, he was a blacksmith and welder, but says his injured knee, made worse after a botched surgery in the Jordanian refugee camp, won’t allow him to do the work anymore.
Tourneur isn’t sure if that kind of work is even available in New Glasgow, but that doesn’t mean the town can’t provide for the family.
She thinks that a small town like hers is best equipped to help the AlMethybs transition into Canadian life and to “heal from the travesties of war…in an environment that’s safe and warm.”
Here what Rania AlMethyb had to say about Canada and about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before his visit to New Glasgow on Aug. 16.
Occasional logistical issues pop up from time to time. If the AlMethybs ever want to venture outside of New Glasgow with their Syrian neighbours, it takes a few volunteers to organize how many vehicles will be required.
This didn’t stop the family from visiting a nearby beach.
So far, the AlMethybs like the tranquility that New Glasgow has to offer, a departure from Syria’s chaos and instability.
“I like summers here,” Basem said. “Not too hot, no snow.”
This infographic shows a snapshot of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, and their Syrian populations in 2011 and in 2016.
About the author
Francella Fiallos is completing her master's in journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is the programming...