“I`m thankful for everyone. The staff, team and everyone running Matthew House Ottawa. The house might be small but what makes up the house is the people, residents and volunteers. I`m thankful for that spirit.”
Since 2010, Matthew House Ottawa has housed hundreds of refugee claimants, and provided free, quality used furniture to about 5000 families. We have done this as a large, dedicated team of volunteers and a small handful of employees, with a lot of passion and commitment. Each month we will be sharing interviews and stories of people involved with and impacted by our work. Here is one of them.
What’s your name? Nour
Where are you from? I was born in Syria. I moved to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) when I was 4-5 years old and I was raised there.
How did you end up in Canada? When I was 17 years old, I travelled to the United States and I started flight training school. Flight school was not allowed for Syrians in the UAE so I had to look somewhere else.
After a year in the U.S., my family came on a work visa. We had plans to stay and apply for a green card. To do this, I had to change my student visa to be part of the family file. A lawyer told us the only way I could change my visa was to go to a U.S. embassy and apply for a new visa and then come back. The nearest U.S. embassy was in Ottawa. I booked a flight and arrived in Ottawa on April 4th at about 11 p.m. My appointment wasn’t until 8 a.m. and I didn’t want to spend the night in a hotel so I sat in a 24 hour diner in the ByWard Market. I had 500 dollars in cash with me and I only planned to stay for 2 or 3 days.
In the morning, I went to the U.S. embassy and questions were raised because I was Syrian and a young male studying to be a pilot. My student visa was cancelled and I was denied the request for another visa. I found out I entered Canada illegally. I was stuck here not knowing where to go. I didn’t have a U.S. visa, my UAE residency was expired and I didn’t want to be deported back to Syria. I knew that Canada accepted refugees but I didn’t know if I could be a refugee.
How did you get connected to Matthew House Ottawa? When my money ran out, I stayed here and there and went to Tim Hortons and McDonalds. I slept at the mosque for 3 or 4 hours because hotels were so expensive. Then somebody told me to go to the Catholic Centre for immigrants-Ottawa. I explained my story and they said I could apply for the refugee claimant program. I was happy to hear this because I didn’t have any other options. I told them I didn’t have a place to stay. The CCI-Ottawa told me to come back the next day. When I came back, they said there was an opening at Matthew House Ottawa for me. I was very happy to hear there was a place that would take me even though I had a bad smell and my clothes were dirty. Right away, I got my bag, the address and I took a bus to Matthew House Ottawa. I knocked on the door and they said welcome. Kailee, the program coordinator, asked me to come to her office and that is how I started my journey at Matthew House Ottawa.
What is a fond memory from Matthew House Ottawa? I liked to speak to the other residents. For me, it was learning about different cultures, countries and trying to learn some French. Aba was a very good friend of mine. We shared the same room and we would talk for hours. He was very friendly. I built a connection with him.
The volunteers would come and cook and I would talk to them about different topics. This was very welcoming to me. The volunteers would take us to museums, the tulip festival and show us different parts of the city. There was unconditional support from the volunteers. I needed someone to advocate and send a letter on my behalf and a volunteer did that for me.
What are you thankful for? I’m thankful for everyone. The staff, team and everyone running Matthew House Ottawa. The house might be small but what makes up the house is the people, residents and volunteers. I’m thankful for that spirit.
By Barb Koppe with files from Rachel Burgis.
Wanna help? Here is how you can make a difference in our community through Matthew House Ottawa.
Pray for past, present and future residents and our ongoing work welcoming refugee claimants.
*Note: answers have been edited for clarity