BOW VALLEY – Wearing a pair of red and white Canada mittens, Dana and Waill Tatari were brought to tears in a recent Facebook video.
“Someone remembers us,” Dana said with a big smile. “We exist in this world.”
This February marks the two-year anniversary since organizers with the Bow Valley Syrian Refugee Project put in an application to accept a second Syrian refugee family and the Tataris are hopeful to join the community by the end of the year.
“You give us hope and you give us home and that is something really precious,” Waill said emotionally in the video.
For the last eight years, the Tataris have been living a life of unrest and on the run since the Syrian Civil War ignited in 2011. At the time, Syrian armed forces were engaging three rebel factions – one being ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).
Dana, Waill and his mother Salma made the decision to flee Damascus in 2013 when their neighbourhood became unsafe and the Tataris started witnessing brutal assaults, neighbours going missing and dead bodies in the street.
“Since the war started, our life was all about one thing and one thing only, survival,” Waill explained in an email. “Eight years passed of continuous struggle. All we aspire is a sense of normality and a feeling of home.”
After fleeing Syria to Egypt, the Tataris stayed for approximately six months when an uprising began in Egypt and the family fled again to Malaysia where they have been for the past five and a half years.
Waill talked about the struggles they have faced since being displaced, including losing his mother Salma last May.
“A refugee in Malaysia has a total different reality, a third class citizen, not allowed to have any rights, or dream,” Waill explained.
“A refugee in Malaysia is not allowed to work, or have any sort of business, or a bank account, or owning anything. [Our] hands are tied while resources are limited ... all that affected us with inner struggles, severe depression, loneliness, illness and grief.”
The Bow Valley Syrian Refugee Project announced earlier this month the Tatari family were scheduled for their first immigration interview, moving their application along.
“We are confident they will be here in the next six months ... now our fingers are crossed and we are very excited to know the Tatari’s will be here later this year,” said Debra Hornsby, chair of the local organization.
The first Bow Valley Syrian refugee family arrived in Canmore at the end of 2016 with six family members and a full-year sponsorship from the project. After the sponsorship was up, which included housing, income support and settlement support, Hornsby said the family was completely independent and doing well.
The goal now is to have enough money to support the Tatari family for another one-year sponsorship.
“We want to help them understand living with wildlife and the Canadian health care system and understand the education system,” Hornsby explained.
“We don’t want them to worry about money in their first year, we want them to have freedom.”
The organizers raised approximately $130,000 between 2015-18 with $98,000 expensed for the Kahkejians family. To date, there is $35,000 in the bank for the Tatari family and organizers want to raise an additional $25,000 before the Waill and Dana arrive.
“They say that Canada is cold, but the people there are all about warmth,” Waill said.
“The snow is very thick, but there is always hands to rescue ... it means arriving to a place without discrimination that affects everything in our life.
“Where we feel belonging and stop being lost and thrown away in an ocean of high tide challenges. Where we can build a home, have a career, have a base, stand on our feet instead of hanging on the edge not to fall.
“A place where we can give and feel that what we have is wanted.”