Being an active community volunteer is important to Rasha Alhamwi after everything her family has been through. It’s because of her new community that Rasha now has safety for her family, and the ability to pursue her dreams.
Since she was a young girl, Rasha has made completing her education a priority. Her father was a very open-minded man and enrolled her in private school. It was his wish that she would be well-educated, and the dream was shared by Rasha and her mother.
When he was alive, Rasha’s father always made her feel like a princess. She says everything was “as a dream” with him but when he died, she was taken out of private school. The more relaxed setting of public school was welcomed by Rasha, but it didn’t take long before her grandparents stepped in. They made the decision to take her out of school.
“They are from a different generation,” Rasha says. She understood their more traditional values and obliged.
Rasha eventually married and began a family. But when the war in Syria grew more and more dangerous, the Alhamwis had a difficult decision to make. Rasha’s husband, Farhan, left Syria and made the 600-kilometre journey to Jordan to prepare a new home for the family. Once he was ready, Rasha and her children joined him. They knew that to create a better life for their family, they had to leave their old one behind.
After four long years living in Jordan, Farhan’s uncle received a call from the UN informing him of his resettlement to Canada. His submitted Farhan’s name as well, and the two immediately left for Canada. After that, it only took a month for Rasha and their five children to join him.
“I can’t explain how it felt,” Rasha says. “It was unbelievable.”
Rasha and her family finally arrived in the small Saint John airport in February 2016. They were incredibly thankful for the help they received from community members and the YMCA, making housing and the initial essentials easier for them. Despite the excitement, the first year in Saint John was not easy. Everything was new: the language, the culture, and the “details” of everyday life.
Rasha enjoys the simplicity of life in Saint John and the friendliness f its people. She enjoys being able to navigate the city without a GPS, and that she sees the same people day-to-day, always with a smile on their faces.
Gradually, more members of Rasha and Farhan’s family were able to resettle in Canada, and most of them are here in Saint John. Like many newcomers, Rasha misses those she left behind. Her mother is still in their home city of Homs, waiting for a son who was unlawfully arrested. She tells Rasha all the time “I know you will complete your education,” and Rasha has not allowed that dream to fall apart.
Rasha arrived in Saint John with just the basics of English. She knew days, months, letters – simple things. In the two years since arriving in Saint John, Rasha has excelled in her English classes and can now comfortably speak the language without the need for an interpreter. She has also signed up for the GED program, and finally has the chance to realize her father’s greatest wish for her.
Rasha and Farhan came to Canada for their children, to create a better life for them. “Everything is OK,” she says. “I came here for them.” Her children are all happy and performing well in school, and now her biggest dream is for them to get the higher education she was not able to receive.
Rasha’s language has flourished to the point that she is now comfortable getting involved in the community. She says volunteering is important to her “to say thank you to the community or the organization who help me and my family; to feel that I am a part of this community.” She has taken on numerous volunteer opportunities – as an interpreter with Newcomer Connections, at the YMCA daycare, and even helped organize an Arabic Club at her children’s school.
Rasha has also spoken at public engagements, and gave a presentation on homelessness in front of a large crowd at Market Square. The importance of having basic needs met isn’t lost on Rasha after what she’s experienced. “To be safe and warm and … have a place to get rest, to get food and to sleep,” she says. Saint John is just that for Rasha – a safe place to call home.