Canada has always been proud of the fact that our borders and hearts opened during times of need.
In 2015, Operation Syrian Refugees was Canada’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Over the span of 100 days, beginning in November of that year, our country worked with Canadians from coast to coast to coast, private sponsors, non-governmental organizations and provincial, territorial, municipal governments and international partners to welcome more than 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February 2016. One of these refugees was Asrar Aldekas.
Aldekas, 29, fled Syria during the country’s civil war which saw over half a million people have been killed.1 Arriving first in Lebanon, then in London, Ont. Aldekas eventually landed in Saint John in 2019.
Life in a war zone took its toll. “After war, very dangerous. Shelling, not safe. Always worry, many people die. Not safe. Very difficult,” she said.
In fact, experts say 75% of Syrian refugees are reported to have PTSD, many having lost lost ones or children.2.
But life wasn’t much easier when she arrived on Canada’s East Coast with no job, no friends, speaking no English or French.
Asking for help
That’s where Kevin Standing came in. Standing, 57, is a born-and-raised New Brunswicker who recently retired due to medical reasons.
“She did not know any English, and she walked in and said, ‘Hire me. I need a job,'” Standing recalled.
Above anything else, Aldekas wanted to work. About a year ago, she walked into Jaco’s, a pizza restaurant in north-end Saint John, where Standing and his friends hold an informal coffee club, and bravely asked for help.
Fortunately, restaurant owner Jaco Khoury spoke Arabic. After Aldekas explained her situation, Khoury asked the coffee club if she could join them, to help her learn English.
“I saw somebody who has a plan to do something. The plan is to make a life for herself, and bring her brother here,” Standing said. “She endeared herself to us.”
Tools for life
The friendship between Aldekas and Standing grew beyond the coffee shop.
Standing, who is on dialysis for kidney disease, needed help with certain tasks. He and his wife, Tina Jane, noticed that Aldekas took an immediate interest in small building projects around the house.
And as fate would have it, Standing is hobby carpenter with an extensive collection of tools.
“I said, ‘Watch what I do. I’m going to give you safety glasses, I’m going to give you gloves — and all of the tools necessary to build things.'”
In Syria, carpentry is a man’s job, Aldekas said. “Woman — job for her teacher, job for doctor, her cook for children. Also engineer. Anything. But no carpenter.”
Canadian help me so much — make me feeling safe
As the pair worked together over several months, Aldekas gained more confidence with the tools and more confidence fitting in.
Their latest project is building and selling window boxes out of reclaimed cedar, with all of the proceeds going toward a fund to bring Aldekas’s brother safely to Canada.
A fundraiser is also planned next month at Saint John’s Harbour Church, where the Standings are part of the congregation.
Aldeskas even decided to change her religion, which she would not have been able to do in Syria.
“Canadian help me so much — make me feeling safe,” she said.
Apart from getting her brother safely out of Lebanon to join her in New Brunswick, Aldekas said she has two other big dreams.
The first, she said, is to stay in Saint John. “Because I like Saint John. People here very nice, kind.”
Her second goal is to find a job that will help her advance her carpentry skills. “Hopefully I have job at Home Depot,” she said.
Read the full story at CBC.