A Sudanese family arrived in Sooke last month to start a new life in a new county.
The Komi family – father Khalil, mother Thamar, son Nelson, and daughters Nazik and Noor – arrived here through the efforts of the Team Juan de Fuca Refugee Sponsorship Group.
Speaking through an interpreter, Khalil and Thamar smiled as they recounted the family’s arrival in Canada.
“When we first arrived at Pearson airport in Toronto, I was immediately struck by how clean and organized it all was,” Khalil said.
“The friendliness of the people here is remarkable. Everyone you meet, it’s like you’ve been friends for a very long time.”
Thamar shared those same sentiments, saying that she was overwhelmed by the reception they’d received at the Victoria airport.
“There were so many people and they gave us flowers,” she said with a shy smile.
“It gave me so much joy. We felt like we had come home.”
But the family’s road to Sooke was not an easy one.
A civil war between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Islamic government forces in Sudan had brought horrific persecution against the Nuba people and particularly against the Christian minority, including the Komi family.
The family was displaced eight years ago when government forces destroyed their village, crops and cattle and killed family members.
The Komis fled, first to Khartoum, then on to Cairo, Egypt where they’ve been since 2013.
But the family’s situation in Egypt was difficult, said Sharon Sterling of the refugee sponsorship group, as they could never become citizens in Egypt and their children had no hope of a real education. Their ability to work was also limited.
But the past is behind them, and now the Komi family is looking to the future.
“Our children are overwhelmed by everything they see here,” Thamar said.
“They love it (in Sooke) and have asked why we didn’t bring them here sooner. We had to explain to them that it wasn’t something we could do before.”
Both Khalil and Thamar are concentrating on their English lessons, but they are anxious to find work as soon as possible.
Sterling said both Khali and Thamar want to work and that her group will provide an interpreter to any employer who give the new arrivals a job.
“I won’t just be sitting back and learning English, I want to work as soon as I can,” Khalil said.
For her part, Thamar showed off a collection of beautiful, intricate henna tattoos adorning her arms. She’d done the work herself in a traditional celebration when she was told the family could come to Canada.
“I can work, too. I can do henna tattoos, crochet, and do traditional hair weaves. Maybe someone will hire me to do that.”
As to whether the family will stay in Sooke, Khalil said it will largely depend on his ability to find work to support his family.
“It’s too early to say, but I can say that I love it here. I love the lush green and I love the rain. It’s so beautiful. I really don’t like big cities,” he said.
As for the children, Nelson is enrolled at Journey Middle School and is already starting to make friends.
Working to help prepare lunch in Sterling’s kitchen, he said his dream is to be a chef.
Mazik and Noor have also started making friends at the local playground and both will also be starting school in Sooke where they are looking forward to making new friends.
“This is an awesome start to a new life. We are fulfilling our dreams – for us and for our children,” Khalil said.
“We have freedom here. It’s like getting a wonderful gift, and it’s a gift that keeps coming as we learn more about life here.”