Learning English, starting school and finding work are all among the first tasks of the family of Syrian refugees who arrived in the city New Year's Eve.
Joanne Ross, who speaks for the group at St. Andrew's United Church that sponsored the family of five to come here, said the Qarqoz family has been overwhelmed by the welcome they have received in Sudbury.
The three sons started school this week, Ross said, and were able to get a tour last weekend. It's a new experience for the youngest boy, who was too young when the family fled Syria, and wasn't able to attend school while they were in the refugee camp in Lebanon.
"So it was his first day (Tuesday) ever at school — oh my goodness, it was a pretty exciting morning, I'll tell you,” Ross said. “The school has been so fabulous. Oh my gosh, they have bent over backwards to accommodate the kids. The principal opened the school on Sunday so the family could come for a tour.
"Those boys are going to be speaking English so soon. They want to know the words for everything. They're very motivated."
Learning English is a priority, but there is already a waiting list for the English-as-a-second-language courses offered in Sudbury. So Ross said the family is relying on volunteer translators for now, as well as online translation apps, which often produce unintentionally hilarious translations.
"I'm so grateful for our Arabic speaking friends — that is the understatement of the year,” she said. “And Google Translate is also a source of great entertainment for both them and us."
The father is eager to start working and earning his keep, Ross said. It's a matter of pride for him to earn his keep.
"Even a day a week — it's just very important to him that he provide for his family, and that he pays back Canada,” she said. “They're very grateful for receiving support, but they want to stand on their own two feet."
In terms of the difficult transition to a new country, Ross said the process has been aided by the warm welcome the family has received.
"The community has been so wonderful,” she said. “We've been out shopping and what not, and people come up to the family and said 'welcome to Canada,' and shaken the dad's hand. We've had that happen so many times, it's very heartwarming.
"The family feels very welcome and they're so full of gratitude. They just really want to express to the community how grateful they are and how welcome they feel."
But she's sure they're feeling the distance from their old home and culture, especially since they are still trying to get the grandfather here, after a last-minute passport problem forced him to stay in Lebanon.
"It's difficult for them, I'm sure,” Ross said. “They put on a very brave face during the day, and I think they shed a few tears at night, which is to be expected."
They're meeting today (Wednesday) with Dave Courtemanche, of Lifeline Sudbury, and Sudbury MP Paul Lefebvre to see what they can do to get the grandfather to Canada.
"(Nickel Belt MP) Marc Serré has worked since New Year's Eve, actually, to try and get some answers, but it's very difficult,” Ross said. “The sponsorship agreement holder, the United Church of Canada, has also been trying to get some answers. But because they're trying to move so many people so quickly, it's very hard to find somebody who can actually give you an answer.”
The Qarqoz family is the first family to arrive, but at least three more families sponsored by other groups are expected to come to Sudbury early this year. To find out how you can help, email email@example.com.