Syrian refugees find safe haven, family and Canadian dream in Markham

Tamador Sharif and her sons Muhammad and Ahmadnour Kurdia, and other family members, came to Canada from Syria. They were sponsored in part by Dayna and Gareth Callaway, at right, and became family friends with Peter and Winnie Wales, centre. June 23, 2021

Tamador Sharif and her five young children not only found a safe haven in Canada six years ago, but also forged an extended family in Markham.

“Everyone has been so wonderful,” says Tamador, who fled Aleppo, Syria, among the first wave of refugees from the war-torn country to Canada.

Sadly, Tamador’s husband was not among them. He simply didn’t come home one day, with the family hearing through the grapevine that he had been a victim of the ongoing conflict impacting the country.

“Canada is so beautiful and we are safe here,” she says, adding she doesn’t feel like she has to look over her shoulder anymore.

Tamador says she is forever grateful to the people who helped make the Canadian dream a reality for her and her children — Rasha, Zainab, Mohammad, Bdour and Amad Nour.

“They helped the children with tutors and to get part-time jobs.”

The family was initially sponsored by Unionville residents Gareth and Dayna Calloway, who helped get the family settled.

Friends and neighbours Peter and Winnie Wales — who knew they wanted to do something ever since reading in the newspapers about some of the challenges facing Syrian refugees — were happy to help out.

“I was over at Gareth’s house and I noticed all these shoes and I said to him, ‘What are you doing, running a shoe store?’ and he said, ‘Well, no, I have a refugee family living on my third floor,’” explains Peter.

“They already had a lot of fish to fry with six kids of their own, so it was a good opportunity for us to give them a hand and take over some of the assistance.”

While Tamador looks forward to the day she and her family can call themselves Canadian citizens, she is thrilled with how much the Wales have introduced the family to the many different aspects of Canadian life.

That includes summer trips to Sandbanks, pool parties and numerous camping and rafting trips for the boys with Winnie’s adult son, Desmond.

The girls were able to experience Markham’s diversity firsthand through things like the mayor’s annual Chinese New Year celebration and an East Indian fashion show a couple of years ago at the Aaniin Community Centre.

Volunteering has also been a big part of their lives, from the Unionville Festival and Candlelight Christmas Parade to helping feed up to 500 underprivileged and homeless people in Regent Park one Saturday a month in conjunction with a local church.

“It’s important to give back to the community where you belong,” says Tamador.

Helping to feed people who were more underprivileged than they were was quite an interesting experience for them, adds Peter. “They engaged with the many who came to eat as if they had been doing this for years.” 

Winnie, who used to work with the York Regional Police, got the children involved with various events over the years, including the Terry Fox Run.

Events where people can be together are things that build the community, says Donna Hall, the Welcome Centre’s manager of newcomer employment services.

While the pandemic has shifted the centre’s services to virtual, Hall said they have been making greater efforts to make connections with their clients, to find out what is going in their life apart from just looking for a job to help serve them better.

Peter agrees, noting the many Christmas, Thanksgiving and Eid dinners they share, including Tamador’s sisters and brothers, who also came to Canada as refugees.

“I think we’ve met them all,” Peter jokes, but adds he can’t imagine a day when they wouldn’t be in each other’s lives.

“It’s been a very rewarding and fantastic experience,” says Peter, but Winnie adds that the relationship isn’t one-sided.

“Tamador is so very appreciative of what we do for their family, but we also get so much pleasure out of it and we appreciate the trust she has put in us,” Winnie says.

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“We are a family,” says Tamador.

— With files from Aileen Zangouei.


STORY BEHIND THE STORY: For Canada Day, reporter Heidi Riedner looked how a Syrian family forged a family bond with the Markham residents who helped them settle.

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