June 20, 2017

Ahmad Al-Helwani will soon embark on a four-day trip to Ottawa for the ultimate Canadian experience!

The 12-year old Syrian refugee and his family – his mother, father, sister and brother – left Damascus in 2014 to escape the war. They spent two years in Cairo, Egypt before being selected to come to Canada when the federal government eased immigration quotas to admit more Syrian refugees.

Since arriving in the country a year ago, Ahmad has been making the most of his new home, and he credits the YMCA of Greater Halifax/Dartmouth in large measure for his success in adapting to his new country.

“When I first came to Canada in 2016, I didn’t speak any English,” he said. “My dad looked into places that would help us and he found the YMCA. The YMCA has taught me everything, and if I didn’t have them, I wouldn’t have so many friends or be able to speak English well.”

Ahmad, his older sister and younger brother have all participated in the Y’s Youth Outreach Homework Club, Saturday Study Skills sessions, School Settlement support, and English support services.

According to Fadi Hamdan, manager of the Youth Outreach program, the services the YMCA has been able to offer to Ahmad and his family have been integral in helping them to settle in their new home in Halifax.

“We provide social and recreational activities, and volunteer opportunities with community events. We expose them to life in Canada and how to adapt to their new home,” he said. “We show them how to talk about the new laws and new responsibilities and where to go and get help or support. We also encourage them to network with Canadians to build bridges.”

Fadi said Ahmad and his entire family’s gratitude to the people who helped settle them in Halifax is a large part of the reason Ahmad was chosen when the he was asked to suggest a candidate to participate in a four-day trip to Ottawa through the WE organization. Ahmad will get to participate in workshops and sightseeing, be on stage at the Canada Day concert, and take part in WE Day Canada festivities on July 2.

WE is a movement that brings people together and gives them the tools to change the world through activism, volunteerism and hands-on community work and fundraising. WE Day is a celebration of youth making a difference in their local and global communities, inspiring them to take social action, empower others and transform lives—including their own.

Fadi explained Ahmad will be paired with a student from Dartmouth for the trip through a buddy-system where Canadians are matched with newcomers, adding that the two students are the only ones from Atlantic Canada chosen to make the journey. He explained that Ahmad’s passion for his new country, and his willingness to give to his community makes him the ideal participant.

“Whenever we hold events and activities, Ahmad is always there to help,” he said. “He is so polite and hard-working and displays such a spirit of gratitude. He also initiates things, so he asks if you need help or if you want him to do something. He’s grown so much this past year. His English has been amazing, and he’s been participating a lot in different programs. He’s a good kid!”

Ahmad recently helped form a YMCA cheering section during the Blue Nose Marathon and will be volunteering with the Dragon Boat Festival coming up in Dartmouth. He regularly attends Saturday Study Skill sessions with his brother to help the younger participants and said he feels a responsibility to give back.

But when the topic switches to his upcoming Ottawa adventure, he carefully considered how to describe his expectations.

“I’m excited and a little nervous,” he said. “It will be my first time outside Halifax and Nova Scotia since coming to Canada. I don’t really know what to expect. But I am excited to meet new people. We have been told there is also a 99% chance we will meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. I would like that – I would like to say thank you.”