32 FOCUS - MAY 2018 A Syrian-Canadian baby for Canada Day 2018? When you visit their home, the Ghilan family exhibits the same warm spirit of hospitality that they received when they were welcomed to Port Perry. Friendly smiles and handshakes, and a large plate of cookies greet visitors. Syrian refugeesAhmed Ghilan, his wife Rehab Alfares, and their three children landed here on December 22, 2016, at 10:30 p.m. Three other Syrian families were also sponsored by the local Welcome and Settlement Committee, chaired by Kathy Payne- Mercer. Their journey was memorable. After a long, sleepless 13-hour flight, thirty Port Perry residents met them at the airport. Rehab saw the sign with their name on it first. “It was a surprise! We were so happy,” she recalls. A fellow Syrian immigrant said he felt like “The President” because they got the royal treatment. A fully furnished apartment was waiting for them in Port Perry.Almost everything was donated, said Kathy. Donations of clothing continue to arrive at her home. There were five countries for the Ghilans to choose from, but Canada won out. Why? Ahmed explained that, “Canada is multi-cultural, with different religions living together, no problem.” They are pleased with their choice. Imagine fleeing war-ravaged Syria, then spending five-and-a-half years in Lebanon, and then relocating to a small town in Ontario, with three children in tow. “We feel safe here,” Ahmed commented. When they arrived, neither parent knew a word of English. “If someone said ‘Hello,’ we didn’t understand what it meant,” said Rehab. But thanks to ELS (English as a Second Language) courses, assistance from their children (who studied the English language in Lebanon) and a cell phone app, which translates words from Arabic into English, con- versation is getting easier. Kathy says she has given up on trying to learn Arabic. Kathy was one of 100 local volun- teers who made the transition smooth for the Syrian families. There was a lot to organize: getting health cards, driver’s licenses for the parents, filing for Child Tax Credits, finding doctors and dentists, etc. “There are so many papers to sign in Canada!” Ahmed said. Making a living was also a high priority. Ahmed was a schoolteacher The Ghilan family at home with Kathy Payne-Mercer. PHOTOS BY MARYANN FLEMING