Settling into a New Home

As you know from my blog last week,  the Almanaked family arrived last Monday morning.   As they came through from immigration they look tired and overwhelmed.  I can’t imagine how it would feel to leave your country, home, family, and friends, move to a strange and different place that you know very little about, and are unable to understand or speak the language.  

As you saw in the photos, they received a warm welcome with signs, happy faces, and small gifts.  Most importantly, we had members of our group who were able to communicate with the family in Arabic: Melad, Azza, and their two boys who are close in age to our family’s two boys.   With the help of many we managed to transport the family to their new address in Etobicoke – it is a challenge to move a family of six particularly when two car seats and two booster seats are needed for every move but we have a group of dedicated support workers.  

Once home, we  provide them with a welcome lunch and introduction to the apartment before leaving them to sleep and adjust to their new surroundings.

Tuesday morning the work started.  With the help of the Dugas family and friends, and the Markos family, our Syrian family spent the next four days going through the exhausting process of appointments, meetings, and shopping for essentials.  The committee has done a fantastic job of helping our family to feel welcome and comfortable in their new home.  Gill has written a detailed account of the past week which I have copied and pasted her blog along with photos. All of this could not have been accomplished without their help and support – THANK YOU!

Odyssey to Canada

Almanaked Family:  Zeinab, Chady, Hamza, (9) Yousef, (6) Sara (2. 3 months) and Sadil (1. 2 months)

I am Gillian Dugas and along with Andre Dugas, Samantha Dugas, Azza Markos and Melad Markos we are the settlement committee for our newcomer family. Also with wonderful help from Kit Fraser who assembled a lot of furniture for our family’s home and donated over a thousand dollars of new items for our family and Melanie who donated all the girls’ clothing and toys.

As you know Andre, Samantha and I were with the Department of Foreign Affairs and lived 25 years in 11 overseas assignments and Azza and Melad are Egyptians who were refugees 3 years ago along with their two sons Sam & Ruben. Melad has a PH.D from Cairo University and presently attending university in Toronto .      Azza and Melad have been working to assist Syrian refugees who recently arrived in Toronto and staying in the Etobicoke area by taking them through all the procedures, medical visits and shopping.   They are also assisting Iraqi, Afghani and Iranians who are also new to Etobicoke.

Meld and Azza live 5 minutes walk from our family – they have visited the Almanaked family every day to check on them even between our group outings together, and taken them back to their house (socializing and meals) and to the local parks.     The boys play together as they are the same ages.

Tuesday, June 21. At 10:00 – School Registration.   Gill stayed with the two girls Sara and Sadil.   Andre and Samantha joined Melad and Azza and drove Zeinab, Chady, Hamza and Yousef to Rivercrest School.     Rivercrest School’s Principal Ms. Roach immediately welcomed the family and they went through the initial registration process.   The registration forms were provided at this time.     A quick tour of the school was also provided.   Ms. Roach recommended the boys begin school the next day (Wednesday).

2:00 Medical Assessment Gill had already set up medical assessment for the whole family at Rexdale CHC who have a special refugee assessment program.     After eating together, the three cars took all the family to Rexdale CHC. Gill completed the medical forms and Melad and Azza translated while Andre and Samantha cared for the children in the waiting room as each person was given an initial exam.    At this time follow up appointments were given for each member to attend the Rexdale Clinic in Rexdale Shopping Plaza to see the Rexdale CHC doctor.

4:00 Returned to family home.     Girls went to sleep.   Boys went to play.   Gill and Andre sat with family along with Azza and Melad to discuss their immediate needs…..   Gill and Andre went shopping. Samantha went to get two school backpacks and lunch bags (donated by son Lincoln) prepared with lunch, snacks and water bottle at her home…. Purchased food from Loblaw’s that evening.   Samantha and Gill completed the many registration papers (at least 2 hours) and got Chady and Zeinab to sign.   Melad went to scan all official documents.     Melad also arranged for English translation of necessary documents and papers.     Melad and Andre contacted apartment owner over rental lease.

Wednesday, June 22.   Andre and Gill had to get the filled backpacks from Samantha’s house at 7:45 a.m.. 8:15: Collected Hamza and Yousef (for their first day of school) along with Chady.   Gill provided all the completed forms to the Administrator Ms. Andersen, and greeted each of the grade teachers.     Also provided signed parents’ permission slip and $10 for Yousef to go on a field trip with his SK class on Thursday to Downey’s Farm.     A very friendly Arabic student (Yassim) translated for Yousef and Hamza….(bathroom, lunch/snack times, recess etc.).       Hamza is in Grade 3 and Yousef in SK.     Hamza and Yousef were extremely brave and polite to everyone.   Samantha had provided all the clothing for Hamza and Yousef including shoes and hats.

8:50:   Gill and Andre went back to speak to Zainab and Chady to reassure them their sons were OK. Gill and Andre purchased more food for school lunch boxes for Thursday and Friday.  All the children love bananas and apples.     Samantha went shopping for bed rails for girls’ bed.     Azza and Melad joined family bringing over treats. They took girls for a walk in a double stroller that Samantha purchased.

11:30:   Gill went to collect Hamza from school so he could attend the Rexdale Clinic doctor’s appointment.     The first doctor’s appointment was for Zeinab, Hamza and Sara. Chady stayed home with baby Sadil who was sleeping.     Andre, Gill and Melad drove in two cars to the Rexdale Shopping Plaza to introduce Zeinab to an incredibly large, ethnically diverse, supermarket with discount prices and halal products.     Zeinab went down every aisle talking to Melad over prices and availability.   Andre and Gill walked with the children.     Zeinab decided on her purchases and she did the transaction herself (using cash) – this supermarket only takes debit or cash.   We had a quick snack and went to check two phone providers for information and walked around the Plaza.

2:00   We went into the doctor’s clinic in the Rexdale Plaza for appointments.   The doctor examined each family member with Melad translating. Andre and Gill cared for the children while the mother was speaking to the doctor.   Each child (Hamza and Sara) and Zeinab got their vaccinations (first ever) and their vaccination papers. I will explain that the clinic decides on who they will see and when…. The appointment for Chady, Sadil and Yousef is scheduled on Wednesday.     All the costs of the medical appointments are covered.       We returned to family home around 4 p.m.     Chady had collected Yousef from school.   Melad and Azza came back to the family after dinner and took them out to their home and local park.

Thursday, June 23:   Chady took boys to school along with Melad.   Andre and Gill took over more fruit, biscuits and clothing.     Melad and Azza invited Chady, Zeinab, Sadil, Sara, Andre, Gill and Samantha and her son Lincoln to lunch at their home.   Azza cooked a wonderful meal and we sat talking and relaxing.   At around 2:00 Samantha offered to purchase new clothing for Zeinab (who had very little in the three small bags).   Azza, Gill, Samantha and Zeinab went shopping for two hours..   Samantha purchased two dresses (worn over the basic covering) , three pairs of long, black type tights and underwear plus two very inexpensive handbags.   Zeinab loves handbags (and looks lovingly at them) and considering how little she has had in her life she was overwhelmed at all the purchases and hugged and kissed Samantha many times.   Samantha and I realised from listening to Azza translate how incredibly hard life has been for the whole family.   Food was in great shortage and all the children are malnourished along with the father, Chady.   Little Sadil was on breast milk to keep up her weight.       Samantha, Zeinab and Azza all have young children around the same age so they can talk about private matters.   Of course we are providing them with lots of food now and also helping them to learn to shop themselves but it will take time to bring up their weight.   The children eat all the time especially fruit, yoghurt and snacks of bread and pita.   When we returned, Azza told Samantha that Zeinab wanted to take Sadil off breast milk immediately and she needed special bottles so Samantha rushed out to get them.  Samantha also gave a huge bag of donated shoes for the boys.   We have found several pairs that fit both boys.

Friday June 24:   Andre had contacted OHIP for general info and location.   Many discussions with the landlord and lots more…   The Rexdale doctor had set up appointments for Zeinab and Hamza to have blood tests at a small clinic opposite Albion Mall.   At 9:00 Gill, Andre, and Melad took Zeinab and Hamza to the clinic.     Gill went in the cubicle with Zeinab and Melad with Hamza.   They were incredibly brave and it was their first time to give blood.   While we were sitting in the clinic Melad, who talks in Arabic and English, to our family all the time …asked Hamza what did you learn in school yesterday and he counted to 10 in English and he said”   May I have an apple please”.   The boys can understand very quickly and so can Chady who said to me “come inside please” and many other small words.     It is amazing how fast they are picking up English.     At 11:00, after a quick snack, with the boys in school, the rest of the family along with Azza and Melad, Andre and Gill, Norma and Lloyd went to CIBC.   Andre, Melad, Lloyd and Chady attended the meeting at first to get through the initial setting up of accounts.   Azza, Gill and Norma were outside with the two girls and Zeinab until she went to sign and understand the banking. This took a long time to complete – Melad showed Chady the ATM but it will take many more times with Melad to understand all this for the first time.     At this point, Andre, Gill took Azza and Zeinab grocery shopping which turned into an hour while Gill took care of Sadil outside.     Everyone met back at the family apartment to discuss budgets and more details with Melad translating for several more hours.   Gill went to collect the two boys from school.

A lot more has happened but these are the main points.     Melad and Azza have become close friends with Chady and Zeinab and they talk on the phone and visit each other (walking a few minutes).   Today, Saturday, Samantha purchased two black, long sleeved tops that Zeinab requested urgently and provided a child’s bike (donated) which is pink and a small trolley for the babies.   Samantha also managed, after 3 tries, to get the correct bed railing for the girls’ bed.   Andre and I found three pretty party dresses for the girls for the Ramadan celebration along with two new summer dresses and a hat. Also there is small Mac’s Milk (Arabic owner), pharmacy (Arabic pharmacist) and other stores within 4 minutes walk from the Almanaked’s home. The bus is a few minutes’ walk.

Melad introduced our family to an Egyptian family living on the same street at No. 12.   We met the family when they were visiting today – they brought over baked treaties for everyone.

Just a little note:   The school said that the boys love soccer and to run…..the grade teacher told me that Yousef was very disappointed when he didn’t win his race in school.       That is wonderfully natural for boys.   From what I observed each time I was at the school…sometimes they didn’t know I was standing there (as the school is closed and locked) the teachers are very calm and speaking in a polite and informative way to all the students. I am so impressed.     I have seen the staff smile and give great attention and care to Hamza and Yousef.

Andre and I are working today to get information for the boys to attend summer camp (just a few minutes away) .   The fees are around $135 for each child for one week.

School finishes on June 29.     I spoke yesterday to Principal Ms Roach who came out to meet me when I collected the boys on Friday.  She said Rivercrest School was very pleased to have the boys and handed me two bags of clothes.   I expressed how thoughtful that was and to thank her and her staff for their support and great concern for the boys (and kindness) at which time Mrs. Roach said the school will do more for the whole family in the new school year.

We will do the OHIP next week along with the next doctor’s appointments (vaccinations) for Sadil, Chady and Yousef and no doubt some follow up blood tests.   After the results of the blood tests we will have more doctor’s appointments.   I know they are coming and we are ready.      And Lloyd will do the RAP interview once he gets the day and time…coming soon.     The Library will be next week and a visit to the local Community Center (a few minutes away) to check out their summer programs.     We will also take the family to see the local ESL programs for information.  We do more than I can tell you…. Everything is happening naturally with kindness and dignity…. They are surrounded by people that care and are looking out for them in every way.

Requests:        BIKES for the boys.   We are looking for bikes for Hamza (9) and Yousef (6).   I have given a donated bike however it is a girl’s bike (bright pink) with a basket and bell.   It will be fine for now but would love bikes.    The boys are fascinated by Lincoln’s I-Pad…… they sit watching while he speaks in English showing them the programs and apps.      We have lots of small toys and books at this time.

Chady and Zeinab had a very old, beaten up smart phone in Lebanon.   I believe it belonged to a family member or friend.   It was given to them in the last weeks before departure.   They took photos of their family in the days before they left.   Somehow, when they arrive at Pearson Airport it no longer works.   Andre, I and Melad have taken the phone to 4 different local places but they claim the phone is completely broken…one said the motherboard is fried.   This is causing Chady and Zeinab to be very sad.   They are longing for the photos.   They ask us over and over again to get the photos.   We do not want a new phone because Norma is getting that .. I am asking if there is anyone who knows of a person who can try to work magic by getting the phone to release the photos.

Zeinab & Azza 2

Azza & Zeinab shopping for essentials 


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