The stunned silence was short-lived Sun., April 29 as the Al Ghorani family entered the hall at the Joel Steele Community Centre in Winchester.
Red and white was an obvious colour pattern as the new Canadians were treated to a feast passed down through generations, that of the potluck variety.
Of course, the meal ended up being mostly main course and plenty of dessert, but no one seemed to mind.
For the Al Ghoranis, it was no doubt an evening they thought impossible not all that long ago.
The native Syrians escaped Damascus by taxicab in 2011, landing first in Lebanon, only to find themselves ultimately living in uncertainty in Egypt. Sure, they were free of the bloodshed of Syria’s civil war, but all they had known was gone. Yet, they still had each other.
The struggle of the country’s many displaced residents finally landed on the conscience of countless North Americans in the ensuing years, and by 2015 the Dundas County Coalition for Refugee Support had been linked with the Al Ghoranis.
A flurry of activity followed as supporters worked to complete necessary paperwork to get the family free from harm. It was a slow process, largely drawn out by government bureaucracy, but the day finally arrived.
In February, the Al Ghoranis, better known as Adel, Dania Al Muazzen, Hamza, and Masa and Liain, were airport bound, landing in Ottawa before the trip south on County Road 31 to their new home in Winchester.
No longer was there a fork in the road for the family; there was salvation soon.
In the weeks since, it has been a matter of adjustment. Hamza is a Grade 10 student at North Dundas District High School (NDDHS), excelling in math and finding a spot on the junior soccer team thanks to fees paid and equipment provided by supporting teachers.
The twins Masa and Liain are in Kindergarten at Winchester Public School, and are quickly making friends.
Adel and Dania are completing language training in Ottawa, and trekking around the county will be easier soon thanks to a car being donated by automotive students at NDDHS. It’s a new beginning for a family, and they are using it wisely.
More than anything, their arrival has also shown the true power of community. People from throughout the region have lined up to ensure the Al Ghoranis have all they need. This despite the naysayers who have used social media as their bully pulpit, spreading a message that borders on nothing more than ignorance and a lack of compassion.
These are five people who fled a crumbling country, one where countless lives have been lost and bodies have washed up on beaches. Canadians throughout the country have opened up their homes to help, and we’re all the better for it.
We are one community, and the Al Ghoranis are our neighbours.
Welcome to Winchester.