Hamdi’s dreams are to speak English, be able to drive, have a job and (said with a grin) buy a house…

As I waited 10 months ago at the airport to meet father Abdullahi Abdi, mother Hamdi Abdile and their children Eklas, Mushtak, Abdirahman and Mariam, I only knew them as “refugees.” After a complicated and protracted process to gain permanent resident visas for them, my church, St. Thomas Anglican in Sherwood Park, had joined Nasra Hure, Abdullahi’s sister, in co-sponsoring them.

The word “refugees” engenders different opinions, many uncomplimentary, often because there are few opportunities to become familiar with their stories. Abdullahi, Hamdi and their children asked me to share their story.

Abdullahi and Hamdi were born in Ethiopia, their parents having fled Somalia. In Ethiopia, Somalis are unwanted, which meant that the family was in danger every single day of being jailed or killed. You did not dare to ever look up as you walked outside, or talk to anyone. Hamdi was out one day with a very young Abdirahman on her back, when the two of them were simply put in a truck and taken to prison for nine days. When she took Mariam to a clinic for immunization, she noticed police around, was terrified and had to run away. The fighting and chasing on the streets scared the children. At school, Somali children were always treated badly, beaten and stolen from. Eklas, now 11, could only manage to attend school for two months last year.

Somalis were watched like hawks by police and ordinary Ethiopians alike. Adullahi was jailed for more than a year when Mariam was a baby. When a friend went to their house to help Hamdi, another neighbor reported to the police that Somalis were getting together; it was too dangerous to help each other.

The family have discovered two things since they arrived in Edmonton last February: peace and the help of others. Hamdi had never been able to imagine what peace was like. Neither did she know that people could help each other. She had only ever hoped that she would survive the uncertainty of each day.

In Edmonton, “Everything has changed. I feel as if I am just born now. I am able to live,” she says. Now that they are here, Hamdi’s sister-in-law provides financial assistance and day-to-day support, while household furniture, equipment and supplies were donated by the St. Thomas congregation, as was help in accessing services, government programs and employment.

Abdullahi’s ambition was always to be a doctor, but as a Somali in Ethiopia this was impossible. Now his dream is to finish his interrupted university education. Meanwhile, he supports his family by working in the meatpacking plant in Brooks. He is only able to come home for long weekends, but work in Edmonton is hard to obtain.

Hamdi’s dreams are to speak English, be able to drive, have a job and (said with a grin) buy a house. Meanwhile, she must stay at home looking after Mariam, now 4, as day care for pre-school children at ESL class locations is very scarce.

Eklas, Mushtak (nine) and Abdirahman (seven) enthusiastically describe John Barrett school, where they work with the ESL teacher, Hassan, on Mondays and Fridays and are rapidly learning English. They are not afraid at school anymore, they have friends there and can attend all the time and concentrate on learning.

Eklas loves maths, science and social studies and wants to be a doctor. She is proud to be an AMA patrol. Hamdi actively encourages the children to volunteer and help at school as this concept of helping others is so dear to her now. “I will never forget what has been done for us,” she says.

Mushtak likes science and swapping ideas on clothes and hairstyles with her friends. Abdirahman is good at maths and spelling, but reading is more difficult. He really enjoys field trips from school and the best thing about Canada is going swimming. Mariam is a good helper at home and loves making cup cakes with her mother. She likes books and games and the slide at the swimming pool.

Sadly, I have not met 18-month-old Sahra. When, more than seven years had passed since applying, the family were within sight of being able to leave Ethiopia, Abdullahi and Hamdi were fearful that adding Sahra to their refugee file would jeopardize the futures of the four older children. Sahra was left with her grandmother. Hamdi’s thoughts are always with her: “I’m here, but I’m there.”

As I leave their apartment, after our conversations, I feel completely humbled. At the same time I am smiling from ear to ear because their joyful enthusiasm is so infectious!

Years ago, my godfather urged me to put myself in the place of the boy who offered his loaves and fishes to Jesus in John’s gospel. I have been taken aback by the enormous difference my skills can make to others. I will keep trying to “make sure that one lass has a basket of loaves and fishes always at His disposal”.

— Patricia Downing attends St. Thomas Anglican Church in Sherwood Park

Offerings is your opportunity to express thoughts on religious issues. Submissions up to 750 words can be submitted to religion@edmontonjournal.com with “Offerings” in the subject line. Please include a few lines about your faith tradition and your place of worship.

Source: Edmonton Journal
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