Nearly one year after first arriving here in Borderland, the second family of Iraqi refugees has moved away to southern Ontario.
Rami Canoon, his wife, Fivyan Shamoon, and their two daughters, Fbaana, seven, and Oryana, three, left for London, Ont. on Dec. 1.
“They loved it here but a lot of [Fivyan's] family members are in Toronto," said local "Families for Families” co-ordinator Kathy Mueller, who drove the family to Thunder Bay to catch their flight.
“She has her mom and her dad and four sisters and a brother in Toronto,” Mueller noted.
“They didn't want to move to Toronto," she stressed. "Rami was looking at buying a house here and was ready to stay, but the family was just too far away.”
The Canoons arrived here on Dec. 27 and since then, Mueller had spent a great deal of time with them.
“It was a teary goodbye," she admitted. ”It was hard because they were like my grandchildren, those two little girls.
“They had very good friends here, a lot of people who really stepped up not only to help them but make them feel really welcome,” Mueller added.
“They were able to benefit from the support people gave them," she noted. "And they felt like they had the skills to move on; that they needed to make the move.”
Mueller said Rami and his family are very appreciative and grateful to “Families for Families” and the community as a whole.
“Rami always said, 'Thank you, God. Thank you, Canada. Thank you, Fort Frances,'” she noted.
“We gave them a jump start," Mueller added. ”They were able to save money so that they're not dependent on anyone.
“[Rami] was really focused on that," she stressed. "He was really good about being frugal and not taking anything for granted.”
While in Fort Frances, Rami first worked at Boston Pizza before being hired by local business owner Dave Petsnick to do flooring and carpentry work.
“Rami so enjoyed working for Dave, and Dave went out of his way to make Rami feel welcome,” noted Mueller.
"He took him fishing and brought him to the cabin; they became good friends at the same time.
“Rami was very happy in his job but it came to a point where they really wanted to settle down and Fivyan's mother is not well, and it was just too far to be able to go and visit and then come back,” Mueller explained.
She noted it's been so long since Fivyan's family has seen them that they haven't even met younger daughter, Oryana, in person.
“It was important for [Fivyan] to be with her family. I'd do the same,” she reasoned.
Mueller noted the family brought their furniture from here with them “because [Rami] wanted it to feel like home” when they got to their now home in London.
The Valley Adult Learning Association was instrumental in teaching English language skills to Fivyan and Rami, and helping Rami get a driver's licence.
When the agency got new computers, they also gave the family one of its older ones so they work online at home.
The family also got to meet other immigrants in Fort Frances through VALA's English-as-a-second-language course.
And the two children, Fbaana and Oryana, have learned English so well, they now can almost speak it fluently.
Meanwhile, the Al-Zeebaree family from Iraq, including Julia, Michael, Fadi, Sarah, Philip, and Bashar, arrived in Fort Frances last November and then moved to Toronto this past June.
Mueller noted that they moved there to be part of the large Iraqi community in Toronto, where they already have friends living.
She added Bashar and Sarah have jobs and the kids all are in school.
“They're okay. They're doing all right,” Mueller said.
While some people locally feel the two families should have stay here after all the community has done for them, Mueller explained that the point of “Families for Families" was to bring refugees to Canada so they could have "new lives.”
“And they have that," she reasoned. ”They're so appreciative of the safety and the opportunities for their children here.
“And opportunities for [the adults], too. Fivyan wants to go to one of the colleges in London and upgrade her English and then get some kind of college diploma,” added Mueller, recalling that Fivyan had an economics degree and taught when she was in Iraq.
Mueller also pointed out both families are from large cities and “it's pretty quiet here.”
“Rami likes that but if you're not used to that quiet life, it's kind of hard to adjust,” she conceded, adding London has the second-largest Iraqi community in Canada, next to Toronto.
“They can go to church in their own language," she noted. ”There will be community events.
“It will be good.”
Both families were brought here thanks to the local “Families for Families” campaign, which saw more than $60,000 raised by Christmas, 2015.
Numerous individuals also contributed furniture and household wares, clothing, and more to make the two families comfy right off the bat.
Mueller, who has spent at least the past three years first working on the campaign and then helping the families once they arrived, said there are no immediate plans to bring more refugees here.