Brothers Ahmad and Majd were 14 and 16 when the war started in Syria in 2011. They remember how gunshots and bombs continuously disturbed the quiet of the night. One brother says, “The fighting started in the centre and then spread everywhere, like COVID.”
To escape the fighting, in late 2012, the brothers moved with their family to Libya. They explain, “It was the only place that our passport would let us go.” But they quickly confess, “[Libya] was worse than Syria.” Ongoing conflict in Libya forced the family to move three times before they finally moved to the United Arab Emirates in 2018.
Ahmad and Majd’s story is not unique. Often, men, women, and children who are escaping war or persecution are destined to become nomads searching for a home where they can live in peace – where they can find work and have enough to eat. Many of them move from place to place experiencing heartbreak and disappointment at every stop.
For Ahmad and Majd, the United Arab Emirates did not deliver a solution. Life was difficult and their family was forced to scatter. Their parents and younger brother returned to Syria, but Ahmad and Majd could not go with them. If the brothers returned to Syria they would be recruited for the military. They went to the United Nations (UN) to ask for help.
Anita Booy, is a member of the Sonlight Christian Reformed Church in Regina, Saskatchewan. She belongs to the church’s refugee sponsorship committee and has been involved in sponsorship since 2013. As the daughter of immigrant parents who were grateful for the opportunity to start life anew in Canada, Anita felt compelled to become an active member of the refugee sponsorship committee. She says, “I tell as many people who want to sponsor go for it. It is a blessing to help [refugees] come [to Canada] and listen to the experiences they have.”
Sonlight Christian Reformed Church sponsored Ahmad and Majd. After going to the UN, the young men explain, “The [UN] told us we could go to Canada, Australia, or Britain… We chose Canada because we heard that the people were kind. We learned about Canada when we were young, so we knew a little bit about Canada.”
Once the UN identified Ahmad and Majd as vulnerable, Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) selected them for the Blended Visa Office-Referred Program (BVOR). As part of the BVOR Program refugees are matched with private sponsors for resettlement to Canada. IRCC and private sponsors share the costs of supporting refugees for one year. World Renew’s Refugee Sponsorship and Resettlement Program provides support and guidance to private sponsors like Sonlight Christian Reformed Church to sponsor refugees like Ahmad and Majd.
Ahmad and Majd arrived in Canada in July 2019. They say, “We felt happy, our sponsors put a smile on our face.”
Anita, says there is much to smile about in sponsorship. When English is difficult for the refugee family, she explains, “Google translate is a wonderful thing. Trying to communicate and not being able to for some things and ending up laughing because we both are having trouble saying what we want is also a blessing.” The smiles and laughter help to create bonds that can last well beyond the sponsorship period. Anita admits, that even after the sponsorship period is over, “We have kept in contact with our families.”
Today Ahmad and Majd are settling down to life in Canada. Ahmad is finishing an English as a Second Language (ESL) Program and dreams of getting married, going to university and becoming a lawyer. And Majd, he looks to a future where he can welcome his parents and younger brother to his new home.