After months of planning, meetings and fundraising, the day had finally arrived – OCRA’s first refugee sponsorship family landed in Ottawa, on a cool winter night in late December. It seems fitting that Ayda and her daughters, Isis and Luna, reached Ottawa during the Holidays – a time associated with love, compassion and generosity of spirit.

The road to Canada had not been easy. Ayda and her daughters fled the violence in Syria three years ago, eventually landing in Beirut, Lebanon. Dreaming of a better future, they applied for refugee status in the hopes of building a new life. Approved as refugee claimants in 2013, they had been anxiously awaiting for news regarding resettlement and the next step in their journey. When the notice arrived in mid December, they had just three days to wrap up their lives, say good-bye to friends and family, and prepare for departure. Boarding two different planes, the family set out on this next chapter of their lives, not knowing who had sponsored them, or anything about this new home, called ‘Ottawa’. After 3 planes, 7 time zones, and 18 hours of travel, imagine their surprise when greeted at the airport by two dozen cheering OCRA volunteers. When the dust settled there wasn’t a dry eye in the Terminal.

Meeting with the steering committee on January 6th, OCRA members were keen to hear about the family’s experience and first impressions.

Ayda and her daughters began with a reference to ‘the unknown’. Not knowing when they would leave Lebanon. Not knowing where they were going. Not knowing what the future held, and the stress of so much uncertainty.

Reflecting on their arrival, they were overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from strangers, half a world away, and surprised at the methodical approach of the OCRA team – from the greetings at the airport, to the ‘soft landing’ approach that sees them welcomed into the home of an OCRA member for the first few weeks in their new country. They are comforted by the ongoing help and assistance – navigating the tasks of daily life in a new culture with a new language – setting up a bank account, visiting the doctor, and buying groceries.

Having been here just a few weeks, they now talk about hope for the future – a future without guns and bombs, without war and strife.

Thankful for the safety and stability of their new country, sitting in the comfort of their new home, sharing a meal with new friends, they can begin to plan a path forward.

From Ayda, Isis, Luna, and all of us here at OCRA, thank you – without our members this would not have been possible – together we are making a difference, one family at a time.