Syrian family celebrates ‘happy and peaceful’ first year in Digby

Published on March 2, 2017

The Kenaan family. From left: Rima, Sadallah, Maya, Maysa, Shekrallah, Molham, Ayham and Aya.

©Sara Ericsson

DIGBY, NS - After a year in Canada, the Kenaan family has settled in Digby and is putting down roots.

Their favourite part of living here? The peace, and the quiet.

It’s a very different life from the one they led in Lebanon, where they lived for three years as refugees after leaving Syria.

Rima and Shekrallah’s second youngest son, Molham, spins his toy cars throughout the family’s house as they discuss what life was like before they arrived in Digby.

“In Lebanon, they look at refugees like they aren’t even human,” says Rima, translated by son Ayham, the family’s unofficial interpreter.

The family managed to escape the Syrian conflict and lived as refugees in Lebanon for three years, but witnessed many tragedies in Syria before they could escape.

While walking around Homs, where they lived in Syria, Ayham and sisters Maysa and Maya, all then younger than 10-years-old, witnessed the explosion of a bomb that took the lives of their aunt and two cousins.

The explosion happened only ten feet from the children.

Shekrallah still carries pieces of shrapnel around his lungs from such explosions. Medication has helped dispel it, but he still feels them inside him every day.

They are little tiny pieces of the destruction that’s taken over the country they once called home. That country has deserted them and they have no intentions of returning.

Digby was and remains a welcome change for the family, who could not be happier with the town that’s become their home. They extend a massive ‘thank you’ to everyone who’s helped them. They were scared of what awaited them when they first arrived, and were surprised by the outpouring of help.

People like Beth Earle, who drives them to stores for shopping, and Evelyn and Leo Zackhour, who Rima says “have helped us greatly without ever asking for anything in return,” and Wendi Bradley, to whom Shekrallah refers to as his “Canadian mother” have helped the family immeasurably.

Molham, 4, flashes a peace sign as he plays with his cars. He and the rest of his family have finally found peace in Digby, where they intend to stay.
Sara Ericsson

 

“People are very good here in Canada,” says Rima, “and people in Digby are great. Our sponsors have been so kind to us.”

Earle says the kids first marvelled at the green grass and trees when they arrived, and are even used to the strange winter weather, though they have mixed opinions on whether they enjoy it or not. One thing they all agree on is their love of Digby’s seafood. The family first tried scallops at the Scallop Days festival in August.

My favourite part was when the plane landed, because then I knew we were really safe, and we'd never go back. Shekrallah Kenaan

School, teachers, hospitals, doctors: these are the things the family appreciates the most, and are things they didn’t have easy access to before arriving here. They also look forward to gardening, and have plans to expand the size of their flowerbeds and also plant tomatoes and Arabic zucchini. Small town life appears to suit them.

Older siblings Ayham and Aya watch, amused, as second-youngest Molham shows off his dance moves.

©Sara Ericsson

They also have plans for work. Shekrallah enjoys cars and wants to drive either a bus or a truck, and Rima hopes to sell her homemade Syrian desserts at Recardo’s Convenience in Digby.

One look at the family, and it’s evident they’ve found happiness here in Digby. The children have also been thriving. Aya, 13, Ayham, 12, Maya, 9 and Maysa, 7, are all in school and can speak fluent English. The two youngest, Molham,4 and Sadallah, 3, also speak some English.

“Elephant, owl, raccoon and Spiderman,” shouts Molham, eager to show how much English he’s learned.

Eventually, the family would like to set up a farm and bring more family members over here. While Rima’s family has arrived safely in Lebanon, Shekrallah’s family is still in Syria. He has not seen them for five years.

One mention of Donald Trump and tense chuckles erupt. Shekrallah and Rima are glad they live in Canada, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau supports refugees and immigrants.

As Digby meets to talk about inclusivity and acceptance of different cultures and faiths, Rima wants the community to know that Islam “means peace, love, and relaxation,” and that any radicalization does not represent true Islam.

Some actions transcend language and culture. Molham and Reverend Alex Constable share a high five.
Sara Ericsson

 

The family continues to practice their faith, and says it has gotten them through the past three years. Shekrallah says the only prayer that really worked in Lebanon was when they prayed to come to Canada.

His favourite part of this whole year was when the plane landed in Halifax, “because then I knew that we were really safe, and we would never go back,” he says.