For refugee families it’s often the local school that holds them together until they find their balance.
And for Obeid Abouzeid, his wife Nazadar and their five children – all boys – their place of refuge is Lena Shaw Elementary on 100A Avenue in Whalley.
This Surrey school is home to 42 Arabic-speaking children, including their nine-year-old son Ayat.
Speaking through interpreter Abeer Al-Kozabary, Nazadar said the school has given her family every bit of support as they struggle with settling into life in B.C.
“If we have to move from where we live I would not leave this school,” she said. “This school helps us, they do everything.”
The school is supported by The Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School campaign. This year it needs money for its breakfast program, plus money for families like the Abouzeids so they can be fed on weekends. Also needed are emergency funds to provide clothing, transit tickets or necessities they are unable to buy for themselves, such as diapers for Ayat who is a special-needs child suffering from thalassemia, a blood disorder.
Every weekend the family receives a backpack of food: cereal, fruit, rice and other staples and have been helped with clothing and hampers over the Christmas period.
Having AAS help for this “is like having a lottery win,” said principal Sam le Riche. “We provide as much support for families as we possibly can.”
Surrey’s lower rents have resulted in a disproportionate number of refugee families living within its boundaries and the school district is doing its best to cope.
The district’s Attendance Matters program is seeking $100,000 from AAS this year to feed more than 800 children in 22 schools including Lena Shaw.
Vancouver lawyer Jack Kowarsky, who administers the Lohn Foundation, has given Attendance Matters $225,000 over the last three years. The foundation has distributed more than $30 million to various charities over the years.
This year Surrey schools are asking for almost $250,000 from AAS with much of that needed for poverty relief and to enhance the education of impoverished children such as Ayat.
The Abouzeids are Kurds who were forced out of their farm located in that dangerous corner of Syria that abuts Turkey and Iraq. They fled to Lebanon.
“Because they were Kurdish there was a lot of pressure on them,” said Al-Kozabary.
“Pressure” likely being a polite way of saying leave or be killed.
The family’s experiences in a refugee camp caused the children to be “emotionally hurt,” she said without elaborating.
But life in Canada is repairing the damage.
“Everything has changed for them,” said their father. “Now they are doing well, their behaviour has changed.”
Ayat and his brothers Fahad, 24, and Ibrahim, 14, all suffer from thalassemia with the younger two requiring blood transfusions every 20 days.
They were resettled in Ontario when they arrived in Canada in February, but the cold proved too much for Ayat and Ibrahim because of their illness, so they moved to B.C.
Asked what they liked about Canada, Nazadar said “the law” topped his list.
“Everything is organized here and we are treated as human beings because we didn’t have that back home. People respect us. It takes away the worry, especially for Ayat and Ibrahim,” she said. “They feel safe here.”
By Gerry Bellett (firstname.lastname@example.org)