When Ali Duale arrived in Halifax in 1997, the Somalia native opened his hotel room dresser drawer to find toiletries, a letter in Somali and a $100 cheque. “That shocked me. Two days ago I was living in cardboard in a refugee camp. Now I’m in a nice hotel and someone tells me we brought you this and here’s a cheque to cash. That hit my heart and will remain with me the rest of my life.”
Ali and his wife, Sudi, and three children, aged 2, 3 and 4, fled a brutal civil war. They lived as refugees in Kenya for seven years and could have chosen the U.S. as their future home. “Quite honest one of my biggest reasons I chose Canada was the social services as I was concerned about my children.” He knew nothing about Nova Scotia. “Someone from Canada told me it’s a small fishing community. I said I think I could handle that.”
His first impression was shock. “When we were landing I could see nothing but snow. I thought we must be going to Siberia.” Fears weren’t abated during the cab ride along the highway. “I was waving my hands and asking, city, city, city? But I reached the decision that wherever he takes me, I’m ready.”
An immigration representative helped the family settle and ISANS provided language studies. “I give credit to my lovely wife; she made the decision to stay here. This is a friendly, family place. And it’s an educational destination.” As the family grew to eight children, Ali and Sudi alternated working and studying. Sudi returned to high school and then studied nursing on a student loan. She is a part-time IWK assistant nurse and continues her studies at Dalhousie. Ali went to adult high school, then received a loan to study auto mechanics at the Nova Scotia Community College while working nights as a janitor at Purdy’s Wharf. “Only one year did we take social assistance.”
After one year of mechanical engineering at Saint Mary’s, Ali became a firefighter in 2004. “I am blessed. When I go to someone’s home to help them, it makes my day.” He still hopes to complete his degree. He is proud of his family and fondly recalls his son Mohamed’s emotional high school graduation valedictory address where he spoke admiringly of his parents. Mohamed now studies political science at Dalhousie while two sisters are at Saint Mary’s. The younger siblings are at school and home.
Ali believes in giving back. He always votes, a right he never had. He is active in the Somali community, on the Maritime Muslim Academy Board and helped to plan the new mosque. As a member of a private sponsorship group, he is working to bring two siblings to Canada from their refugee camp in Kenya. And he organized a swimming program at the Canada Games Centre and a free basketball program for immigrant boys at St. Andrews Community Centre. The family also plays recreational basketball.
Despite their success, Ali recognizes reality. “Refugees are the lowest category of immigrants; most are uneducated and not wealthy. Refugees have seen terrible things and need sympathy; it’s a great challenge for refugees in every aspect of life.”