Saanich’s St. Aidan’s United Church sits along a small cul-de-sac in a quiet residential pocket off Shelbourne Street.
From the church’s parking lot, visitors can let their gazes drift across a well-maintained grass field cut by wide walking paths. The air is crisp, the sky blue and two playgrounds coloured in bright hues await nearby children. Washed out in beige, the interior of the church matches its serene exterior.
For Mohamad Adlan and three other Syrian men, including his brother Khalid, this pocket of suburban tranquility must have appeared worlds away from the terrors that they had left behind in Syria.
Halfway around the globe, Aleppo, the city at the epicentre of the Syrian civil war, was falling to troops loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and Adlan’s face temporarily darkened when he spoke of the war, which has killed at least half a million people and scattered millions of Syrians around the world, including himself, his wife and four children.
“Syrian people were very, very, very kind people,” says Adlan. “But the war destroyed us.”
Adlan was sitting by himself at one of the dozen tables spread across a large room, talking about his past experiences and future hopes, 10 months after arriving in Victoria. His brother and two friends were doing the same thing.
The idea behind the platform is relatively simple says co-founder Daniel Keeran, who started homelesspartners.com 12 years ago in Vancouver before expanding it to Victoria five years ago.
The site recruits volunteers, who interview people who are staying at homeless shelters.
These stories then appear on the platforms, where people can browse them and pledge gifts to the people behind them.
The platforms build on the idea of “the empathic connection, the idea of the personal connection,” says Keeran, a former social worker. “So when the people read the stories and learn about this person’s life, they have a connection, an empathic or emotional connection with that person,” he said. “They feel the desire then to want to provide a gift that is on their wish list”
Adlan says he chose to participate in Tuesday’s event for two reasons. “First, I want to say thank you to all, thank you to the Canadian people, thank you government, and thank you, especially, Mr. Trudeau,” he said. “I don’t know why but I love this guy.”
Adlan said he also wants to make the Canadian public aware of some of the problems that continue to confront Syrian refugees in their new homes.
“We need a little support around language,” he said. “We need a little bit more time to improve our language and find a job.” Syrian people, he says, love working. “They [do not] want to stay home…I don’t want to stay home.”
To this end, he is currently taking classes at Camosun College to improve his command of the English language, the hardest part of his transition into Canadian society.
“Maybe I can speak a little bit, but language is hard,” he says. “We need to communicate with people. We need to find a good job. If you want to go to the hospital, you need language. If you go to buy something, you need language.”
His kids, he says, are learning quicker than him. “But my wife hasn’t time now to study, because we have a small kid, three months [old]. She has to care of our daughter.”
Adlan said he had a good life in Syria. He had his own steel transportation business and he was studying pharmacy. But that all ended with the war. The Adlans eventually left Syria in 2013 and while scratching out a living in Egypt selling perfume, the Canadian government sponsored them.
Ultimately, Adlan hopes that his children will be able to grow up in safety, get a good education and pursue their own dreams.
“My [eldest] daughter wants to be a doctor, another one wants to be a doctor and the middle one wants to be a karate trainer,” he said.
Adlan’s youngest daughter meanwhile still has plenty of time to think about her career, as she is just three months old. But since she was born in Canada, she is already Canadian and Adlan cannot wait to join her.
“I’m very happy here,” he said, adding Canadian society, unlike others, is tolerant in looking beyond a person’s religious background. “I’m very proud to be here, because the Canadian people don’t look to whether a person is a Muslim, Christian or anything…and someday I want to be Canadian citizen.”