A refugee family's journey from war-torn Syria to the welcoming shores of Nova Scotia
For five arduous years, living in refugee camps, Mahmoud and his family weathered the challenges of displacement, but clung to faith and hope, until a ray of light pierced through the darkness.
St. Andrew’s United Church in Pleasant Bay, Nova Scotia, driven by their deep commitment to helping refugees, had become involved in the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) program*, which allowed them to sponsor refugees. Mahmoud, Rahmeh, and their children were fortunate to be the first Syrian family chosen for the refugee sponsorship by St. Andrew’s United Church. Speaking about that moment, Mahmoud recalls, “It was the moment that has changed everything until today.” Overwhelmed with hope and gratitude, they embarked on a journey that would lead them to a new home, thousands of miles away.
St. Andrew’s United Church in Pleasant Bay is a small congregation that partnered with Lifeline 224, a committee of local volunteers, businesses, and organizations from the neighboring community of Cheticamp, to assist Syrian refugees.
Upon their arrival at the Nova Scotia airport, they were greeted by a warm and vibrant community of approximately 50 people eagerly waiting to welcome them at the plane gate. Rahmeh vividly remembers the relief she felt when someone called them “Mahmoud Al Naasan’s family.” It was in that instant that they realized they had found not only safety but also a place where they truly belonged.
The stars of St. Andrew's United Church, and Lifeline 224 enveloped Mahmoud and Rahmeh with unparalleled support and kindness. “We never felt that this is not home,” Rahmeh said with a smile. The community’s compassion and hospitality made them feel valued and cherished, erasing the pain of their past and offering a promising future.
Their three children quickly adapted to their new surroundings, mastering three languages: English, French, and Arabic. Their eldest son, Abdulrahman, now 18 years old, is pursuing a dental degree at the university, driven by the support and opportunities afforded to him in the community. To their joy, they welcomed a new baby into their family this year, a symbol of the blessings and abundance that life in their forever home has bestowed upon them.
Nova Scotia has become their sanctuary, a place they have never had to leave. The kindness and genuine friendships they have formed with fellow residents have enriched their lives beyond measure. Last April, a moment of profound significance arrived as Mahmoud, Rahmeh, and their children celebrated their Canadian citizenship. On that special day, 75 people from the church and town gathered around a big screen, in the park, their presence is a testament to the love and acceptance Mahmoud’s family had found.
Mahmoud and Rahmeh’s journey from war-torn Syria to the welcoming shores of Nova Scotia is a testament to the transformative power of compassion and community. Their story serves as a reminder that when individuals with deep faith come together, extending a helping hand, lives can be forever changed. Through the benevolence of St. Andrew's United Church, guided by the selfless hearts of Lifeline 224 and countless others, a new chapter of hope and resilience has been written.
*The Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program matches refugees identified for resettlement by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) with private sponsors in Canada. It is a cost-sharing arrangement whereby IRCC and private sponsors contribute financially to support the refugees.
This article was originally shared in the Refugee Sponsorship Newsletter. Subscribe and stay connected.
The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.