When Aida Sairawan arrived in Montreal in February 2016, the Syria native was so captivated by the snow that she played outdoors for three days. It was -35 and despite wearing warm clothing she got sick. “I was excited,” she says, “but I was also scared.”
Five years earlier, Aida, her husband, Mohamed, and sons Fadi and Shadi, had fled to Jordan in a rented car, telling border officials they were just visiting. “We left Syria because two times police arrested my sons. They were taking them to work in the army.” Her brother, one of several family members still in Syria, was recruited. They had owned two houses there—one eventually burned down and another was bombed.
Canada offered hope. “We had no choice; we were desperate,” says Aida. “I knew nothing about Canada. I knew only where it was on the map.” They spent 20 days in a Montreal hotel and then 25 in a Toronto hotel. They knew no English, but felt safe. “To be honest, when I received the confirmation of permanent residence I felt fine and comfortable, not like Jordan where we were unsettled.”
In late March, Immigration told them housing in Toronto would be prohibitively expensive but they could go to Halifax. They were happy to do so. After only three days in a hotel here, ISANS helped them move. “We shopped one day for my house, and in one day we moved—finished!” The family enrolled at ISANS for English classes and employment support. Aida worked briefly at a Herring Cove hair salon and then, at a friend’s suggestion, visited Beauty Supply Outlet and was quickly hired. She has a growing, satisfied clientele, including Muslim women, who appreciate her many beauty skills. Aida is from a family of hairdressers—grandmother, mother, and three sisters.
She has weekends off to shop, clean, visit the beach and spend time with friends and family. Husband Mohamed is a chef at Jack Astor’s, while Fadi, 21, works as a mechanic having completed studies at Nova Scotia Community College. Shadi, 19, attends Citadel High School as well as the Immigrant Youth Employability Program at ISANS that is helping him plan his future.
Aida says that her future includes Nova Scotia. “I can’t imagine leaving. I love ocean, weather, I even volunteer for shovelling. You need help? My family will help!” The high-spirited and outgoing Aida has made many friends. “I have a friend I met at the bus, the cashier at the Superstore, anywhere. I am very happy.”
They miss their family in Syria and hope they can come to visit one day. But this is home now, a place where they can help each other build a new life.