Monday, March 14, 2016

Songs and blessings for new Calgarians

The Alsheblak family fled their Syrian hometown of Daraa (a city in southwestern Syria) in 2013.

“It wasn’t safe whatsoever to live in Daraa anymore. There was bombing everywhere, airstrikes, and random detention,” says Emad Alsheblak – the father of the family of five.

The Alsheblak family
Emad Alsheblak, his wife Walaa, and their three children -- Ghazal, 4, Ahmad, 2, and Omar, three-months-old -- are some of our newest neighbours in Calgary. Emad and his family are government-assisted refugees who came to Canada as part of the plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by February 29, 2016.

The Alsheblak family entered Jordan in 2013 as refugees. In December 2015, he was identified by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) as eligible to come to Canada. On January 9, 2016, they left their extended families and were flown to Toronto, landing in Calgary on January 10, 2016.

Emah’s family is one of the 1,400 Syrian refugees who have come to Calgary since November 4, 2015.

Officially welcoming our new neighbours

The Turning Robe drummers
On March 12, 2016, we hosted a special event for all recent newcomers to Calgary. The Alsheblaks were among 1,300 people in attendance. Mayor Naheed Nenshi and members of the First Nations welcomed them with speeches and ceremonial blessings and songs.

Mayor Nenshi spoke of the importance of making sure they knew they were a part of the fabric of the community from the very first days and weeks in Calgary. He said he believed it was very important they be welcomed properly by the ceremonies of the Indigenous community.

“A warm welcome to our newest neighbours extends well beyond the airport. The most important thing we can do as Calgarians is welcome and support newcomers as they settle in our community,” said Mayor Nenshi.

The City provided free transit on Saturday for those attending the event.

Fair helps newcomers with resources to get settled

The event also featured an information fair with 30 booths hosted by City units as well as community organizations providing programs and services for newcomers. Participants were able to learn about public transit, English classes, fire safety, recreation programs and much more.

City staff at the Fair Entry booth
Susan Fernando is a coordinator for The City’s Property Tax Assistance Program. She was helping as a host at the booth for the Fair Entry program.

“I met a mom with two young kids who had lost her husband before she came here,” said Susan at the resource fair. “I think connecting with these people with these services might help to bring back a sense of normalcy and belonging. Maybe just help them to know care and compassion – that they are accepted amidst all the politics and attention.”

A special thank you goes out to community members who helped out at the event. As well as hosting resource booths, over 30 people volunteered to act as interpreters so event attendees could better understand the information being offered.

View more photos from the event. More information about welcoming newcomers.

Submitted by Stacey Scott, Calgary Neighbourhoods

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