MartinkoHub Staff

It started with a three-year-old Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi. When images of the young refugee’s lifeless body surfaced after he was washed up on the shores of Turkey, it shined a light on the six million people who have fled their homes - their livelihoods and their families - to try and find peace from their country’s violent conflict.

The images of Kurdi resonated with most, and even became an issue of the recent federal election; but for Saugeen Shores mother of three Katherine Martinko, it was an issue that made her take action.

“I found it very upsetting. I have three little boys, and one was three at the time, and it really resonated with me on a deep level. I kept thinking that I really wanted to do something about,” said Martinko February 24.

From there the Saugeen Shores Refugee Fund (SSRF) was born, and with the help of the Mennonite Central Committee Canada (MCC) who has helped refugees resettle for nearly a century, and months of community fundraising, the Alibrahims now, almost four years after leaving Syria, have a place in Saugeen Shores to call home.

The family is larger than typical Canadian standards, 14 in all. The father, Saad, is a former stone mason who built homes in Syria, and is currently taking English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at the Alliance Church in Owen Sound with the help of volunteer drivers. His partner, Ghaydaa Kassem Aboud, is helping her children transition and intends to join her husband shortly.

Their oldest child is Aisha who will be turning 19 soon. She enjoys rock music and hopes to become an engineer or pharmacist. She currently attends Saugeen District Secondary School (SDSS). With pride, Martinko expressed Aisha’s ability to pick up the English language. “She can translate more or less, it is broken and scattered, but we are actually able to talk without constantly looking at google translate,” she said.

Their younger children attend grade school in Saugeen Shores, are active, love basketball and soccer, and hope to play in a league this summer. And the youngest members of the Alibrahim family are in daycare in Owen Sound.

Martinko said there are two important factors with successful resettlement: not starting the father too quickly into a job situation; and making sure that the mother doesn’t stay home too much. “The one reason we worked so hard on fundraising was that so they don’t have to run out and get a job and start feeding the family. This time allows them to adapt, and learn the English language and their mental health will be better for it.”

The SSRF is only able to financially cover the Alibrahims for 12 months as per a joint sponsorship agreement with the Government of Canada.

“We hope to integrate them into the community by then so that they will have friends and a network of support, just like anyone else moving to the community would have. We will still very much be a part of their lives as friends, but we won't be supporting them financially in any way,” said Martinko.

Since the Alibrahim’s arrival, the SSRF has put on networking events and taken the family ice skating. On February 25 they held a potluck in their honour at Port Elgin’s United Church. Sixty people including the Alibrahims played and interacted with each other, along with volunteers, before feasting on a potluck meal.

The Alibrahim children showed off their badminton and basketball skills, while playing with classmates, and volunteer drivers reconnected with Saad and Ghaydaa during the potluck.

Volunteer driver Jim Mondry, new to Saugeen Shores himself, said that he enjoys driving Saad to Owen Sound for his ESL lessons as it gives him a chance to learn some Arabic.

“We’ve been talking about things like our families and work, and he invited us over for dinner. They really want to give and welcome people to the family and cook and share the generosity,” Mondry said during the gathering at the church.

During the interview with Martinko, she expressed how hospitality is important to the family and how there are misconceptions about their way of life.

“I haven't sensed a whole lot of culture shock from them, because Syria prior to the war was a modern, progressive western sort of place.”

Martinko added, “I think people have a misconception of it being more traditionally Muslim, like Iran or Saudi Arabia, but it’s not like that at all, it’s more like Greece or Italy. It’s more of a Mediterranean culture.”

During the playtime at the potluck Penny Inkster, a member of the SSRF thanked everyone for coming, the AL Ibrahim’s translator, Mariam Joudeh of Saugeen Shores shared her sentiment in Arabic.

Joudeh is in her 20s and traveled to Canada less than a decade ago from Jordan, a neighbouring country to Syria. She has become fast friends with the Alibrahims and shares a close bond with 18-year-old Aisha who she stuck close to at the potluck.

“I’m so glad to be in this community and to help people that are in need,” Joudeh said.

“They've only been here for three weeks (pointing to Aisha) and she's can probably understand what I'm saying right now.” Aisha nodded in agreement.

Through Joudeh’s interpretation Aisha explains that she attends SDSS, and likes it however she hasn't gotten to know other students yet as it’s hard to communicate.

Aisha was able to answer simple questions, with the answer of “yes” or “no”, when interviewed.
Without interpreter Joudeh’s help, Aisha was able to answer whether or not she is happy to be living in Canada. She responded, “Very.”

At the time of publishing, the SSRF was still looking for volunteer drivers to help the family get to ESL lessons and daycare in Owen Sound on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

On Monday, February 29, Sergeant Andy Evans, Saugeen Shores Police Service, along with Captain and Fire Prevention Officer Rob Atkinson, Saugeen Shores Fire Department, and Katie Gibbons, Bruce County Emergency Medical Services Paramedic, will attend the ESL class at Alliance Church in Owen Sound and help the Syrian families there learn that law enforcement and emergency responders are on their side, and are here to help.scootersInkster full


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