Calgary Herald Christmas Fund 2016: Refugees find safety, thanks to immigration society
ISIS terrorists robbed George Darmo’s store. They threatened to kidnap him, kill his family and blow up his children’s school.
Targeted by the radical group because he is Christian, Darmo knew he and his family needed to find a safer place to live. Someplace far from Syria.
One night, he, his wife Nasma and his mother Awikel decided they couldn’t stay any longer. The next morning, they packed their car, loading the couple’s young children, clothing, important papers and jewelry.
And they drove to Lebanon, the first stop on their long journey to Canada.
They are just one of the 917 refugees privately sponsored by the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society in 2016.
Speaking through interpreter Anoush Newman, the Darmo family shared the story of their lives, to help raise awareness of the important work CCIS does in the city.
The 2016 Calgary Herald Christmas Fund donations for CCIS will go toward rent, groceries, English classes and other integration aid for new Canadians. “One hundred per cent goes toward refugees,” says Fariborz Birjandian, the society’s chief executive.
Only a short time after the Darmo family fled Syria, more than 200 of their family members and friends were kidnapped by ISIS. Some were murdered. George’s store was looted and burned. Most of their town was destroyed. They don’t know what has happened to their house. There’s no one left to tell them.
Awikel cries as they share this part of their story.
Life in Lebanon wasn’t easy, either. They lived in a refugee camp and sold the women’s jewelry to pay for living expenses. The kids had access to school, but only occasionally and it was expensive.
“It was hard to see the kids not at school,” Nasma says. “And we worried that ISIL would move into Lebanon.”
Meanwhile, in Calgary, George’s cousin had approached CCIS to see if his relatives could be sponsored. The request was approved and on Dec. 27, 2015, the Darmo family boarded the plane to Canada.
At the time, David, 11, knew only a few words of English: “Yes, no, hi!” he says with a grin.
But within a few weeks of being in Canada, he and his sister, Kailen, 8, had made new friends. They walk to school every morning and their little brother, Ralph, only four years old, will join them soon. David plays soccer — his favourite sport — and he dreams of helping people when he’s older, the same way his own family has been helped.
George found a job at a furniture warehouse, but after four months he was laid off because of the economic downturn.
Now, the three adults are focusing on English classes and finding work.
And they’ve decorated their home — the first time since they fled Syria — to mark their first Christmas in their new country.
“We are very grateful to be here,” Nasma says with a big smile.
“We don’t have fear anymore every time we step out of the house.”
The current total of the 2016 Calgary Herald Christmas Fund is: $.
Significant numbers for the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society
1981 — The year the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society was incorporated. It is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year.
6,500 — The approximate number of refugees sponsored by CCIS since becoming a Sponsorship Agreement Holder in 1979.
423 — The number of Syrian refugees privately sponsored by CCIS from September 2014 to November 2016.
917 — The total number of refugees from around the world sponsored by CCIS, from January to November 2016.
7 — Number of countries of origin for refugees brought to Calgary — Iraq, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Syria, Sudan, Tibet and Somalia.
70 — The number of programs CCIS offers to new immigrants and refugees. They include Support for Survivors of Torture as well as the Refugee Child Enhanced Settlement Integration Project, which helps children adapt to the school system in Alberta.
1,500 — The number of volunteers behind the scenes at CCIS.
60 — The number of languages spoken by CCIS staff and volunteers.
$35,000 — The rough cost of privately sponsoring one refugee family (four or five people) to come to Calgary.
10 — The number of months it took to receive their visas and tickets after the Darmo family’s application was approved to come to Canada from Syria.