Jackie Lieuwen photo Abdul Shikhden and Amer al Kadro work at the planer mill of Skeena Sawmills, where they were offered work upon their arrival from Syria close to two years ago.

Syrian refugee fathers thriving at Skeena Sawmills in Terrace

With work at the mill, the Al Kadro family bought a home and is settling into the local community

Two Syrian refugee families are among the most fortunate of those who’ve come to Canada, having found quick employment and even purchased a house within two years of moving here.

Part of that is because they have private sponsors and the associated supports, but the other key factor was having Skeena Sawmills step up to offer the two fathers work.

Amer al Kadro and Abdul Shikhden have been working at the planer mill in Skeena Sawmills for more than a year, after coming to Terrace in 2016 during the Syrian refugee crisis.

Lionel Chabot, plant manager at the mill, says he was the one who initiated their hiring.

“What’s going on in the world, especially around Syria, it’s pretty tough,” Chabot said.

And when he heard of the families sponsored to come to Terrace, Chabot says he knew they’d have kids and would need to earn a living.

“Certainly I have a soft spot for individuals that are working to try and benefit their families,” he said. “So when I heard we had some [Syrian] families coming into Terrace, I made some initial contacts, and indicated that certainly as an employer in the community, we had a high interest in supporting this initiative,” he said. “I was certainly keen on it.”

When he interviewed the two men a few months later, he sensed they would make good employees.

“In both Amer and Abdul, what I picked up was a desire: They needed work, they had a family, they had to support their family.”

Amer al Kadro

Amer and Abdul both said that they are grateful for the job.

“I’m very happy that I’m working here at the sawmill. I like my job,” said Abdul, explaining that he used to work in a steel company in Syria, and spent some time building houses in Lebanon.

And Amer says the same.

“I [felt] happy when I got work here,” said Amer, “because I have big family.”

Previously a truck driver in Syria, Amer did a variety of odd jobs in Lebanon and now at Skeena Sawmills, he’s worked on the strips, feeder planer and the stacker.

“The work is good,” he said. “It is hard, a little bit, but good.”

And his supervisors have been good to him, he said. “My boss is also good. They understand my language before… and speak slowly,” he said.

Plant manager Chabot says that as an employer, he is pleased with how things have worked out.

“I’m extremely happy that we’ve employed both of them,” he said. “They come in, they do their jobs, and if we need a little extra, they are the first ones to step up to the plate.”

The timeline was pretty quick for the men getting work. Amer al Kadro and his wife and three kids came to Terrace in June 2016, and it was October when Abdul Shikhden came with his wife and two kids.

READ MORE: First Syrian family finds a good life in Terrace B.C.

READ MORE: Two more Syrian families arrive in Terrace B.C.

And after settling in and focusing on English-learning and paperwork, it was the following January when the men put on their hardhats and gloves.

Skeena Sawmills production supervisor Ravinder Sandhu recalls the language challenges.

“When they both started here first, they had no language skills at all, I mean you couldn’t even call them and talk to them on the phone,” he said, recalling a few communication issues they had initially.

Abdul Shikhden

“But within a year or so, Abdul in particular… he’s picked up the language good, he’s fluent, he can express himself, he can read the GSAs, the work safe procedures.”

Amer also communicates well enough, but has a much more quiet personality, Sandhu said.

But their work ethic is what stands out.

“[Abdul] is really gung-ho… he’s never late, he’s always on time, and anytime you need anything extra, he’s always ready… so that’s really good. Both of them are really good that way,” said Sandhu, echoing Chabot who said much the same.

According to a recent report from the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. (ISS of BC), a total of 52,000 Syrian refugees have come to Canada since the fall of 2015. Of those, 4,400 have settled in various parts of B.C. and the vast majority of those were government-assisted refugees (GARs).

The report looks at how those government-sponsored refugees have settled in, and is based on phone interviews with 241 households of Syrian refugees who arrived between Nov. 2015 and Feb. 2016.

It found that only 27 per cent of them were working full-time and 13 per cent part-time — a figure that more than doubled from the 17 per cent working at the one year mark.

More than half of the families were relying regularly on food banks, and 80 per cent reported their health was good, although 11 per cent felt their family was depressed.

In terms of language, 87 per cent said their English improved since coming to Canada, and 69 per cent were attending free Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) classes.

READ MORE: Two years later, most Syrian refugees settling well in B.C., report says

An earlier Rapid Impact Evaluation, done by the federal government in 2016, found that significantly more of the privately sponsored refugees found work. That report says that 53 per cent of privately sponsored refugees are employed in Canada, but only 10 per cent of government assisted refugees were able to find jobs.

Terrace originally welcomed three Syrian refugee families in 2016, all privately sponsored, but one of those families has since moved to Ottawa.

Abdul and his wife Wafao and one son, fled Syria in May 2013 because of the unrest.

“Syria’s not safe, lots of trouble,” said Abdul. “I talked to my wife, and we went to live in Lebanon… my family is there.”

They lived in Lebanon for just over four years and had a second son born before they came to Terrace in October 2016. Now the family, with two boys ages 3 and 4, live on Graham Ave.

Amer and Rahma al Kadro arrived four months before the Shikhdens, and were the first Syrian refugee family to come to Terrace.

They had three children when they arrived, but they now have four, with another baby girl due this month. Their oldest is nine-year-old daughter Zeinab, and they have three boys Youssef, 7, Abdul (previously Abd al Elah), 6, and Mohammed, a year and two months.

“We are doing well,” Rahma said. “We can now do shopping, go to doctor by ourselves, and get an appointment… we have friends now, and we can contact them no problem. And actually we have now a car, and we go to Prince Rupert sometimes, or Kitimat, or to the lake.”

The al Kadro family bought a trailer and have a new baby since they came to Terrace, with another baby on the way.

The al Kadro family has actually settled in very quickly over what is almost two years since their arrival in June 2016.

It took only half a year before Amer started work at the mill in January 2017, and then within the course of three months they bought a small trailer, welcomed a new baby, and received a car that was donated to them.

Speaking of buying the trailer, Rahma said they wanted to be thinking ahead and it seemed like a better option than renting.

“We bought it because… the rent is too expensive,” she said. “We came to start a new life, and if we want to start it… we have to think about it from the first.”

It’s also more convenient with the kids, she said, not having to worry about them running and damaging anything.

With help from one of their sponsors, Heather Hayes, the family found a two-bedroom trailer on Graham Avenue on the southside and signed a mortgage in February 2017.

They live down the street and in the same trailer park as the Shikhden family, and upon the move, their children transferred from Suwilaawks Elementary School to Cassie Hall — nice and close to home.

One-year-old Mohammed bounces a ball with his brother Adbul outside their home. (Jackie Lieuwen photo)

Rahma says the kids are doing well in school.

“I always keep asking their teachers,” she said, “and they say that (the kids) don’t have a problem with understanding and speaking.”

Their newest son, Mohammed, was born to the family around the same time as the move, and with his birth, someone generously gave the al Kadro family a car — a surprise gift that Rahma speaks of very gratefully.

As for the language barrier, Amer and Rahma can communicate at a basic “street level,” but Rahma says they cannot yet follow every conversation.

“We still need more,” said Rahma. “We can talk to doctor, or someone else on the phone, but sometimes when they are talking about something different, and we don’t know that, it’s so hard,” she said, adding that people are pretty understanding of the language challenges.

Rahma says it’s hard having such a small Arabic community in Terrace, only seven families, and it’s dwindling — first when the other Syrian family moved to Ottawa, and now with Doctor Mohammed and his wife leaving soon. But she is grateful for the friends she’s made, both Arabic and English-speaking.

The local Group of Five who sponsored the al Kadros is now sponsoring another refugee family to Terrace. The family, with four kids, is a brother and sister to Amer and Rahma.

Rahma says they are excited about the possibility.

“It’s good, I can’t imagine that they will come,” said Rahma eagerly. “I always dream they will come to the airport, and I will be waiting there.”


 


jackie@terracestandard.com

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