Family grateful for second chance

Duane Hicks

While talking about the weather is common pastime amongst Canadians, Fort Frances’ newest family isn’t complaining about the recent cold snap–it means they’re now living in a peaceful country.
A second Iraqi refugee family, consisting of Rami Canoon, his wife, Fivyan, and their two daughters, Fbaana, six, and Oryana, two, flew into Thunder Bay last Thursday and then stayed overnight before they were driven here Friday.
“I am very happy, very excited,” said Rami, who first learned he and his family had been sponsored by the local “Families for Families” committee in March, 2016 and has been eager to leave Lebanon and make it to Canada ever since.
“The cold is no problem for me or my family. It’s nice,” he smiled. “The weather is not important if there’s peace and no war.
“In Iraq, it’s very nice [weatherwise] but there’s battle all of the time,” he noted.
Rami said he’s grateful to “Families for Families,” Fort Frances, and Canada for “saving my family.”
Fivyan said she’s relieved to finally come to Canada and she is the last member of her family to leave the Middle East.
That said, she still misses her family members who live quite some distance from Fort Frances.
Her mother, father, and four of her sisters live in Toronto while other siblings live in the Netherlands and the United States.
The Canoons also have been reunited with the Al-Zeebaree family–consisting of father, Bashar, mother, Julia, daughter, Sarah, and sons, Fadi, Michael, and Philip–who arrived here in late November.
Julia is Rami’s sister.
They only live a few blocks from each other now, and will see each other at St. Mary’s Church each Sunday.
Kathy Mueller, who has been spearheading the local “Families for Families” initiative, drove the Canoons to Fort Frances and has been spending time with them ever since.
“I took Rami to walk on the lake on Sunday,” she recalled.
“He’d never walked on a frozen lake. It was fun.”
Rami said he first was shocked to see the river had frozen, then Mueller showed him Sand Bay at Point Park.
Having walked some distance out on the ice, he asked Mueller, “This is the lake?”
She cleared some snow off away to reveal the ice beneath and he hardly could believe he had been walking on water.
Rami also was surprised he could look across the water and actually see America from where he was standing–two whole new countries in a manner of days.
The Canoon family also is loving their furnished, two-bedroom apartment in the central part of town. It’s an improvement from the one-room apartment they all had to share in Lebanon for the past four years.
When they arrived last week, there even was a Christmas tree with presents waiting for them, noted Mueller.
Like the Al-Zeebaree family before them, the Canoons have been warmly received by everyone they’ve met. They, in turn, plan to get involved in the community–something which will be much easier once they learn English.
All of the adult members of both families will begin a course on conversational English for newcomers to Canada through the Valley Adult Learning Association (VALA) here later this month while Fbaana will be attending St. Michael’s School, where her cousin, Philip Al-Zeebaree, goes.
Rami said being in a small town with few other Arabic speakers is good as it forces him and his wife to learn how to speak English quickly.
If they were to be living in a larger centre with a sizeable Arabic-speaking community, for example, they could rely much more easily on their native tongue to get by.
Being able to speak English will make it possible for them to get jobs.
Fivyan graduated from university and at one time taught economics and Assyrian while Rami was a university student and working as a chef before they fled Iraq.
In Lebanon, he learned how to install parquet flooring, and now says he’s willing to do pretty much any job.
Looking ahead to later this year, Rami is keen to start playing soccer.
He also has a good friend who lives in Chicago, is in the process of obtaining his U.S. citizenship, and will come up and visit him in the summer.
Mueller thanked the community for supporting “Families for Families” and, in turn, allowing two refugee families to come here and start new lives.
“There are so many people that have been so generous in donating money, and in giving up their time, to help make this happen,” she remarked.
“There are so many people who prepared apartments, who donated furniture, and really who have been so supportive of the initiative” added Mueller.
“It makes us feel like, ‘Yes, we are doing the right thing,’ and that a lot of people believe we are doing the right thing,” she noted.
“And that’s important,” Mueller stressed. “We want everyone to welcome these new families and we want them to feel like they are part of our community and of our families here.”
Mueller said both families have been through hardship and overcome difficulties that most local residents would have a hard time imagining.
“Now they’re here, where there’s opportunity and hope and promise,” she remarked.
“These little girls [Fbaana and Oryana] can go to school, learn English, get jobs,” added Mueller.
“There’s so much opportunity.”
Mueller said if people still want to help “Families for Families” financially, they are welcome to do so.
She noted it’s expensive to provide amenities–and many cases, necessities–for each family all at once. For example, the committee currently is trying to get the Canoon family hooked up with Internet service, as well as buy car seats for the two girls.
“If people did want to contribute, certainly we could be happy to receive that,” Mueller said.
“I know that there a lot of people in the community who don’t have special privileges, either, because of a lack of funds, but we want to make these families feel welcomed, to feel that there are possibilities they would not ordinarily have had,” she added.
Those interested can make donations through St. Mary’s Catholic Church or Knox United Church.
Tax receipts will be issued.