Nisrin, who was an educational assistant in Syria, and her husband Safi, a tradesman, arrived with their children in Toronto on Feb. 27, 2017, five years after fleeing their hometown of Aleppo. They are now living in a home in Peterborough.
“The problems started at the beginning of the war. The first bomb in Aleppo, it went off beside Qussai’s school,” Nisrin said. “After that, I was so scared. After that, the bombs started to come more and more and more.”
A gifted student whose grades put him at the top of his class, Qussai was forced to leave school in Grade 7.
“As a kid, I only had two things, my studies and my extracurricular activities and both of them were in my school. School was technically all I had and that was taken away from me,” he said.
The family fled to Jordan in 2012. There, they at least had running water, electricity and security. But life in Jordan was tough. The government prohibited Syrian refugees from working and the family, like many other refugees, faced discrimination.
“In Jordan, it was another kind of miserable life,” Nisrin said.
Nisrin gave birth to Selina and homeschooled Mahfouz.
Without work, the family sold off its possessions and relied on help from family and friends to send money and food. Nisrin said the family pinched every penny to ensure Qussai could remain in school.
“For Qussai, no way was I going to interrupt his school. I do my best so that every dollar I had I put it for Qussai’s school,” she said.
As tough as it was in Jordan, Nisrin watched with horror as her mother Houda, brother Ammar and sister Lilas lived through the civil war in Aleppo. Bombings became a daily part of life and family members routinely hid under beds and staircases. A bomb once dropped right through the roof of Ammar’s bedroom mere minutes after he had left his room to fetch water with his mother.
Lilas and her children eventually made it to Jordan too and then moved to Toronto after Casa Maria sponsored her family in 2015. Ammar eventually brought his children to Beirut, Lebanon while awaiting their trip to Canada.
After three years of precarious living in Jordan, a family friend secured a visa allowing Nisrin and her family to move to Saudi Arabia, where the cost of living was cheaper and the government allowed Syrians to work.
In September 2015, PVNC agreed to sponsor the extended Aidak family. Lilas, her husband Amjad, and her children Karam and Zeina toured PVNC schools to share their story. More than $30,000 was fundraised board-wide.
Lilas Aidak, along with her her husband Amjad and children Karam and Zeina, visit St. Anne Catholic Elementary School in September 2015, telling her family's story and helping to launch a fundraising campaign to sponsor her siblings and bring them to Canada.
“I watched the pictures of Lilas and my niece and nephew meeting in the schools. I saw the videos and I was following you and I prayed,” said Nisrin, recalling how she followed the fundraising efforts closely from Saudi Arabia.
“These people in Canada they don’t know us. They hadn’t met us. They haven’t seen our situation first hand, but still they were willing to help us,” Qussai added. “That feeling is indescribable.”