The past year has been a time of huge adjustments for the members of the Al Sheblaqe family, but they are adapting to a new life in Summerland.
The family of Syrian refugees arrived in Summerland on Feb. 14, under the sponsorship of the Summerland Refugee Sponsorship Group.
While the parents, Mohammad Al Sheblaqe and Eklas Al Zouabi, still have limited English-language skills, their school-aged daughters, nine-year-old Nebal and seven-year-old Eman, are fluent in English.
The parents are working to learn English through the South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services. They are also receiving some private tutoring.
For the Al Sheblaqe family, the most difficult part of the relocation process was the long and tiring flight to their new home.
At the airport in Toronto, they had to change airplanes, but did not understand the language. Arabic speakers at the airport helped them find their way.
It was much easier at the Vancouver airport where two interpreters provided help.
During the flight, they also felt a degree of apprehension and wondered whether they would feel comfortable in their new home.
As soon as they arrived at the Penticton airport and were greeted by the members of the sponsorship group, the tension left.
“We feel like we’re home,” Mohammad Al Sheblaqe said through a translator. “We have no stress at all.”The response from the people of Summerland has impressed them.
“We thought we would feel like strangers here,” Mohammad Al Sheblaqe said.
“But the people are friendly. They say hi and wave to us.”
Today, they feel as if they have lived in Summerland for many years.
Their daughters have been making friends at school and are picking up the language skills. And on April 26, their youngest child, Farah, was born in Canada.
Mohammad Al Sheblaqe said friends and family in Jordan and Syria had cautioned them against moving to Canada, but now, after hearing the family’s reports about life here, their friends and family members would like the chance to live here too.
“We feel we’re blessed we can live here,” Mohammad Al Sheblaqe said. “We consider Summerland our home.”
The most difficult part of the transition has been keeping in touch with their friends and family in Syria and Jordan.
It is not always easy to communicate, even with email, messaging and other technology.
Their family members in Syria are not safe, while those in Jordan are in safer places.
Still, the members of the Al Sheblaqe family are grateful for their new life in Canada.
“We’re very happy here,” Mohammad Al Sheblaqe said. “We thank God.”They also are grateful to the community, the members of the Summerland Refugee Sponsorship Group and the many people who have assisted them in their transition.