It’s been one year since the Karawani family arrived in St. Jacobs as refugees from Syria with nothing. A large group from a local church, along with other community members, came together to find the family housing, jobs, transportation, among other necessities to begin a new life.
As a gesture of thanks, the family gave back a little something to those who gave them everything with a big feast of traditional Syrian foods on Saturday.
Long tables were laid out with many colourful dishes such as tabbouleh – a tomato, parsley, mint, bulgur and onion salad, kibbeh – a dough patty stuffed with meat, and yabrak – a dish of stuffed vine leaves. The feast took the family three days to cook.
Through a translator, Mohamad Karawani, expressed his appreciation for all of the help his family of ten had received from the community. The family feels as though the community is an extension of their family.
“The sponsors here, they have done things for us that nobody has ever done for us. They were very respectful and they helped them in a very nice way,” he said. “I consider Lester (Weber) as better than a real brother. He has a special place in my heart. He has done things for us that nobody has. They had a birthday party for me.”
Mohamad’s wife, Mariam, says her family wouldn’t be where they are without the local Mennonite group who welcomed them to Canada. The sense of camaraderie is one of the things that stands out for her since arriving in the region one year ago.
“The way people treated us was very kind,” she said. “The most important thing is that there is no racism, all religions are equal, and people love each other. They were very kind to us and we felt at home.”
Lester Weber is just one of the nearly 100 people who banded together to help the Karawanis in their time of need. He says the dinner was a great idea for the family to show how much they appreciate what the community has done for them.
“It is nice to see that there is appreciation for what we have done. They have expressed it otherwise too, but it is nice to see that they want to go the extra mile to do a thank you for the whole group, everybody together,” he said. “They are a government sponsored family, but we rallied around them, taking them to doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments, but it has been a stretching experience for all of us. It has been interesting to interact with a different culture. This certainly has opened my understanding.”
The dinner started with a speech from the family, thanking the group for their help. Mohamad expressed his gratitude.
“We would like to thank all of you as a group for all that you did for us,” he said. “You were very kind to us and we can’t describe how you have touched our hearts and we don’t know how to really thank you for all that you did. Our dinner today is a gesture to tell you how much we appreciate what you have done and it is authentic Syrian cuisine, so enjoy it.”
The family has made a home in St. Jacobs, and they don’t have plans to move any time soon.
“We have no intention to change anything. We love the area, we love the people and we want to stay here,” said Mohamad.