October 15, 2016
"HOPE IS THE ONLY THING THAT KEEPS US HUMAN"
Last week was the first time eight-year-old Abod Homosh had ever seen snow.
Soon after the Grade Two student felt fresh snowflakes melt onto his tongue, cheeks and eyelashes, Abod and his two older brothers, Zain and Michael, were doing what many Jasper kids look forward to after the first snowfall of the year: zipping down a snow-covered slope on a toboggan, screaming with delight.
“We feel like Canadian boys now,” Zain said, dragging the sled back up the hill for another run.
But as snowflakes fell from the sky near their apartment in Jasper, the boys’ father, Omar, couldn’t help but think of his what was falling from the sky in the family’s home country:
Bombs. Mortars. Rocket grenades.
“It really is worse than the images you see in the media,” Omar said. “It’s beyond imagination.”
The Homosh family is from Syria, where a civil war between insurgents, a Russian-supported regime and ISIS has been raging for more than five years. Latest figures estimate nearly half a million people have perished in the fighting.
Millions have also fled. Among them are the Homosh family. In August, thanks to local efforts to take advantage of the Canadian government’s Syrian refugee resettlement program, Omar, his wife Rola and their three boys arrived in Jasper.
Their journey had been emotional and exhausting. And yet it was only beginning.
“What Jasper and the Tower family gave me is really beyond words,” Omar said. “It gave me the chance to come back again to life.”
After fleeing the war in Syria by the narrowest of margins (young Abod was asked by a border guard which side his father supported; luckily, he answered correctly), the Homosh family moved to Egypt. Omar, a civil engineer, couldn’t find work because of his nationality. Instead, he got a job in Iraq, then after his visa expired, went to Turkey. But crises in that country escalated and he soon had neither a job or a way back to Egypt. Somehow, a bureaucrat found his story compelling enough to award him another Egyptian visa; he hadn’t seen his family in more than eight months. Not knowing if he would ever see them again was an indescribably heart-wrenching experience, he said.
“You would never be able to understand this feeling unless you encountered it yourself,” he said.
Meanwhile, a former colleague, Jasperite Rod Tower, with whom Omar had worked in Syria, got in touch. Rod and his wife Beth asked if the Homosh family would move to Canada.
“We knew it would be a big change but when you don’t have any other option, you don’t hesitate for a second to move on without turning back.”
And so they did. And although they were anxious about uprooting once again—particularly in such a seemingly permanent fashion—the Homosh family’s fears about their new life vanished almost as soon as they arrived.
“What has really amazed me is that I have never felt like a stranger,” Omar said. “Jasper for me has been the best place to start over.”
To help integrate themselves into the community, the Homosh family has taken on volunteer positions—Omar is helping the Friends of Jasper National Park with mapping projects, while Rola, a teacher by trade, has spent time at the Habitat for the Arts, leading children’s crafting projects. Although the Syrian tradition is one heavily-influenced by family and community connection, volunteering in these ways has been new for the Homosh family.
“This is one of the most important things we’ve received, the value of being productive for your community. My wife and I want to pay back Jasper, we want to offer our help.”
While their focus is currently on their adopted home, there is not an hour in the day when the Homosh family does not think of those they left behind. Omar’s mother and sisters live in the ancient city of Aleppo, currently a hot-bed of fighting between the Syrian army and rebel forces. News of tragedy is constant; to date, Omar has lost 22 of his relations to the fighting.
“Every Syrian has his own tragedy,” he said.
But even in the deepest despair, Omar still holds hope. He hopes—and believes—that a sane, peaceful Syria will one day rise again.
“Hope is the only thing that keeps us human,” he said.