WOW Ambassador: Dr. Rouba Fattal
Nominator: Shoq Sulaiman
You are Home Now
When the Syrian refugee crisis unfolded in 2015, Dr. Rouba Fattal, who had emigrated from Syria 25 years ago, knew she had to get involved in helping refugees from her homeland. “I was a member of the Rotary Club of Ottawa and went to our Chair to see if he could do something and he immediately said yes,” remembers Dr Fattal.
The Rotary Club quickly partnered with the Christ Church Cathedral, a Sponsorship Agreement Holder. They raised approximately $73,000 to sponsor two families within two months through the federal government’s Blended Visa Office-Referred Program.
There was a flurry of activity when they found out a Syrian family of six, would arrive in February 2016. Fourteen people volunteered and everything was ready for their arrival.
She was the only group member who spoke Arabic and remembers how it felt to arrive in Canada not speaking a word of English. She still gets goosebumps when she thinks of that day. “I joined other group members to greet the Sulaiman family,” she explains. “They all looked very gloomy, tired, confused and disoriented. I approached them and they asked me if they were going to a hotel or were they still travelling. I said no, you are home now.”
Shoq Sulaiman, the mother, reminisces about feeling scared because it was a new country, different culture and she didn’t know anyone. “I didn’t know what the future would be,” she says. “The first two months were very difficult.”
While others in the group took care of finances, housing and other issues, Dr. Fattal was more involved in the day to day activities as she translated all of the instructions for the family into Arabic. “I explained about all the ID cards, OHIP, bank account and medical appointments,” says Dr. Fattal. “My throat hurt at the end of each day because I was speaking so much.”
She became a major support for the family. “When their daughter had croup, they called me at two or three in the morning, and I brought her to the hospital,” remembers Dr. Fattal.
Both Dr. Fatta and Shoq chuckle now when they remember one of the worst days, about a month after the family arrived. One daughter was at a home daycare while Shoq was at an English class and her husband was at a dentist appointment. Dr. Fattal was at her workplace at Ottawa University. When Shoq went to pick up her daughter, she became lost, as all the houses looked alike and she had no cell phone. She was crying in the street, when a woman stopped her car and asked if she could help. Shoq had Dr. Fattal’s number on a small piece of paper. The woman called her and Dr. Fattal left work and picked up Shoq and got the daughter from daycare. Because of the delay, no one was there to greet the other children as they got off the school bus, so they were brought back to school. The older children were distressed because they though the parents had abandoned them. The husband also got lost riding the bus home from his appointment. “It was a big day of chaos!” remembers Dr. Fattal. “We spent so many hours straightening everything out. I was honoured to be able to help them and assure them that everything was okay.”
Now fast forward a couple of years later, and Shoq is at a level three in English and her husband has reached a level four. He is working on deck and fence construction and as an Uber driver. Shoq is working selling Syrian desserts at the Carp Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. “A Farm Boy manager tried her dessert once and said you have to sell it at the Carp Farmers Market,” says Dr. Fattal.
When Shoq told Dr. Fattal that she loved cooking, she created a “Kanata Syrian Food Catering ”Facebook page, introduced her to commercial kitchens in Kanata and made a banner and flyers that helped her to market her new catering business. Shoq obtained her food handling certificate and is also working full-time at as a cook at a daycare. She recently cooked for 100 people at a church fundraiser. “She has adapted her recipes to Canadian tastes,” says Dr. Fattal.
Dr. Fattal has been an important mentor for Shoq. “Dr. Fattal is a nice lady,” remarks Shoq. She encouraged me to start my own business. She’s a good translator and brought me to appointments and on shopping trips. She’s amazing with my family and even took my children to their first day of school!” They recently visited a Cabane à Sucre together and a farm, which pleased Shoq’s husband, as he had been a farmer back in Syria.
It is heartwarming for Dr. Fattal to see how this family is thriving in their new home. “I’ve been a volunteer for 20 years,” says Dr. Fattal. “I love helping and fundraising. I get so much back in return when I see the smiles of this family’s faces.”
“Now we are getting used to life in Canada,” adds Shoq. “I can drive a car. I have a newfound freedom and I can go anywhere.” Dr. Fattal’s husband taught Shoq how to drive. They chuckle when they say that Shoq passed her driver’s test in English the first time, while Dr. Fattal had to do it twice.
Shoq is a very determined woman – with three jobs, studying English and four children. “I am very proud of her determination, especially as a woman,” remarks Dr. Fattal. “I know that she will succeed.” The family’s next big goal is to buy a house.
Dr. Fattal is thankful for the Welcoming Ottawa Ambassadors program because it shares positive stories and sheds a light on why we have welcomed newcomers. “It is wonderful that our Mayor and all the volunteers believe in the importance of welcoming newcomers and giving our time,” remarks Dr. Fattal. “Because we have dedicated our time, the newcomers are integrating well and are contributing to the future of this country.”
Shoq looks back on the many challenges she and her family have overcome. She will never forget those first words at the airport that she heard from Dr. Shoq. She feels that she has found a home, but also a good friend.