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Newcomer family gives back to their new home

19 June 2019 - by YMCA of Greater Toronto
As Syria’s humanitarian crisis unfolded, Alaa and Nabil Al Hawa made the painful decision to flee with their children, Mohamad, 15, Assia, 12, Omama, 8, and Nawras, 4. “It was a hard leap to get to this new life in Canada,” says Nabil. “I was a doctor back home… but here we saw a future for our children.” Alaa adds: “At first, I was afraid to change countries. I was worried, but I told myself it was going to be okay. That we could start again.”

Members of their sponsor group, Liz Mitchell and Robert Mansell, worked tirelessly to help the Al Hawas feel welcome and cared for. “We wanted to do something positive, to be involved,” explains Liz. “What we didn’t expect is that we’d get so close.” In the process, Liz and Robert became more than good friends with the Al Hawas—they became family. “It took no effort at all. They’re like our kids and our grandkids,” adds Robert.

The keys to making connections

Eager to make connections in their new community, the Al Hawas joined Liz and Robert during one of their routine visits to our Cooper Koo Family YMCA. “We were already members, so the staff helped out by recognizing the kids as our grandchildren under our family membership,” explains Robert. “The Y also provided financial assistance to Alaa and Nabil, so they could join, too.”

Immediately, the Al Hawas felt a strong sense of belonging. “Everyone was kind to us, and the children have been happy here,” says Nabil. The whole family gets active, swimming in the pool together. Nabil’s getting to know lots of new people by volunteering at the front desk every weekend. And Mohamad is making friends through our free Newcomer Youth Leadership Development program that’s aimed at helping newcomer youth unlock their full potential. “We love swimming,” says Assia. “And climbing!” exclaims Nawras. “Everyone is really nice and it’s fun,” adds Omama.

Paying it forward

Having gained so much at our Y, the Al Hawas decided to pay it forward. Last summer, Nabil and Alaa hosted the Cooper Koo Family Y’s first-ever Newcomer and Sponsor Open House. “We offered to organize the event, to get newcomers to come discover all the programs and activities the Y has,” says Nabil. Liz and Robert also volunteered alongside the Al Hawas. Hoping for a family or two, Liz recalls being overwhelmed at the huge turnout: “A whole streetcar full of people showed up! It was really great, seeing everyone connect like that,” she says.

At our Y, the Al Hawas have found belonging and inclusion. For the first time in a long time, the kids just get to be kids. True, the family still has a long way to go, but they’re making progress — and at our Y, they’re taking their first steps toward achieving well-being.
“Our ambition is to build a good future here in Canada,” says Alaa. Nabil agrees: “Our children belong, they can be happy, successful, and contribute. Here, anything is possible.”


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