By Angelica Ingram
Oct. 25 2016
When Yousef Wiso was living in Lebanon with his wife and nine children he couldn’t afford to feed his family and they were denied the right to go to school.
Their living conditions had become terrible since they fled their home in Aleppo Syria so much so that when the opportunity to come to Canada arose the decision was an easy one said Yousef.
On Sept. 19 2016 the Wiso family arrived in the Haliburton Highlands welcomed by the community and a committee who spearheaded the initiative.
With the help of translator Shadi Shami a community engagement counsellor from the Arab Community Centre of Toronto the Wisos sat down with local media on Friday Oct. 21 to share the story of their journey from the Middle East to Canada.
Yousef said Aleppo used to be a city second to none prior to the current crisis but now it is “a city of ghosts.”
There the Wisos had a comfortable life with a three-storey house job and education opportunities said Yousef.
However all that changed when the Syrian civil war began in 2011 and escalated over the coming months.
At the end of 2012 the family headed to Lebanon where they lived in a tent near an agricultural area where they had to work. They were there for three years.
Life in Lebanon was difficult with Yousef describing situations where he would be stopped by police while trying to get food for his children.
“They denied us our rights and money” said Yousef through the translator.
Prior to moving to Canada Yousef had many professions including welder which affected his eyesight working in a plastics factory working as a nurse and then in agriculture.
It was a phone call that Yousef got at the end of 2015 from the United Nations that would change his life forever.
That call began the process of transitioning the family to Canada.
“It was a miserable life in Lebanon. I couldn’t feed my kids I couldn’t teach my kids because they used to be in schools in Syria. So when they told me I could go to Canada I agreed on that because I knew that I could feed my kids here and the government will help me and the people will help me” said Yousef through the translator.
The phone call was followed up with an interview that took place at the embassy which the entire family attended. Approximately seven to 10 days later following medical tests the UN called Yousef and said they could go to Canada.
The decision on whether to come was not a difficult one as Yousef wanted a better life for his family.
“It was an easy and happy decision” said Yousef.
His children had the same feeling. They wanted to be back in school live in a house again and live in a safe environment.
The nine children range from ages 19 to one and have a wide range of interests and career aspirations.
When speaking about his kids Yousef’s eyes light up.
The eldest Hasan is fond of cars and would like to be a doctor one day. Hozayfa who is 11 likes music. Rihab who is 16 would like to be a police officer. Bayan age 17 dreams of becoming an agricultural engineer. Ten-year-old Mohammed loves computers and has a lot of skills when it comes to electronics. Five-year-old Ghadir likes to socialize and 13-year-old Faysal likes sports. Rama who is three loves toys and one-year-old Nasime loves to drink milk all the time.
All but the youngest two children are attending school in Haliburton.
Since arriving in Canada the family has been welcomed and accepted which has helped make the move that much easier.
“When we arrived to Haliburton we noticed that people were waiting for us. They treated us kindly they all love us and we all love them. We feel very happy among these people they all take care of us” said Yousef.
The children have adjusted to life in Canada quickly and are already making friends and are happy he said.
“We feel that here we live among our extended family” said Yousef.
The biggest challenge thus far has been the language barrier.
The family has noticed that in Canada people treat each other with respect and are integrated with one another.
At times they do feel lonely as there are no other Arabic speaking people in the county. The circumstances mean the children are learning English quickly.
Yousef is excited about the opportunities that the future holds for him and his family.
“I’d like to thank all people the Queen Prime Minister Justin Trudeau all the Canadian government all the Canadian people and especially people in Haliburton” said Yousef. “They have taken care of us.”
Yousef says he and his family have no plans to go back to Syria to live however he might go back to his homeland to sell a piece of land and a small house he owns.
He has two sisters one living in Lebanon and the other in Turkey whom he is able to contact since coming to Canada. Yousef also has a Syrian friend who is living in Canada as well as his wife’s brother who is living in Halifax with his family.
If he could send a message to those back home he would say to take care of themselves and to try and end “this crazy war.”
“If you could come to Canada you’d find a safe life here Canadian people are great ones … life here is very nice” said Yousef.