June 22nd, 2024

Syrian family receives home through Habitat for Humanity

By Sue Huffman HABITAT FOR HUMANITY on March 11, 2022.

Submitted photo Elen Sekali, and her daughters Jaweel and Jwanna, are in a new home thanks to Habitat for Humanity.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDtbusch@lethbridgeherald.com

A year ago this month Elen Sekali received a letter that changed her family’s future. Astonished, she read that her application to be a Partner Family with Habitat for Humanity Lethbridge had been accepted. The 2021 build in Garry Station on the westside would become a home for herself and her two young daughters. While Partner Families are required to do 500 hours of sweat equity (volunteer work and construction labour), the monthly mortgage payment would be less than her rent. After the challenges of the last nine years Elen couldn’t imagine being given this opportunity. They would be safe; they could move forward!
Elen and her husband, Majd, were first displaced from their home in Syria in 2012 by terrorists. They only had time to gather a few personal things before the building was blown up. Although they had initially applied to immigrate to Canada in 2008 they hoped that things would get better in Syria. As they both had good jobs, Elen as a high school teacher and Majd as a bank manager, the decision was made to stay in Syria close to family and friends. However, the next four years saw them having to move numerous times. Each move was an exercise in starting over. The fear of snipers and regular bombing was not the future they wanted for their daughters. They once again applied to Canada, and at the end of 2015 they were approved. Leaving Syria in May of 2016 saw them living in a Lebanon hotel room for six months. With one bed it was cramped, but at least they had electricity and water. They were relieved to leave for Canada, and in November 2016, sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee, they arrived in Alberta. After two weeks with their sponsor family in Milk River it was decided that there were more opportunities in Lethbridge. The family of four moved into a townhouse in the Henderson Lake area. Their daughters, Jaweel and Jwanna were 8 and 3.
When they arrived they had no family or friends in Lethbridge. Connections with other new Canadians and local residents helped with the transition of being in a new country, a new culture. Both Elen and Majd found employment and their daughters enjoyed school. The possibilities that Canada offered were only surpassed by their feelings of being safe in their home. They had started to look at buying a house when the pandemic hit. Then the whole family came down with COVID in October 2020 and while initially everyone was recovering, Majd took a turn for the worse. Tragically, after two weeks in the hospital, he died at the age of 41. Elen was on her own, in a new country, with two young daughters; going back to Syria was not an option.
It was an advisor at ATB who suggested she apply to be a Partner Family with Habitat. With encouragement from the advisor and supportive letters from her employer and friends, Elen submitted the application package in January 2021. An interview and home visit followed; by the end of February she received her acceptance letter. The dream that she and Majd had envisioned for their family was becoming a reality. “I was astonished when I read the letter … it is a very big jump for us”. The next six months were exciting but stressful at the same time. She enjoyed picking the flooring, cupboards and paint but it was difficult to juggle working full time and putting in the sweat equity hours at the house while being a single parent. One weekend in July she was overwhelmed to find a team of volunteers from ATB who completed all of the painting on the main floor. Habitat board members and other friends of Elen’s helped with finishing tasks and landscaping, resulting in the house being ready at the end of August, just in time for the girls to start in their new school.
Habitat for Humanity Lethbridge builds one house per year for a qualified family. With the generosity of many local businesses and a strong group of volunteers, house construction costs are less than normal. The mortgage is carried by Habitat Lethbridge, rather than a conventional bank, at zero per cent interest. The Lethbridge community truly rallied behind Elen and her daughters; she will be forever grateful.
As if she wasn’t handling enough a year ago, she was preparing to write the Canadian citizenship exam in May. Determined to accomplish the dream that she and Majd had as they immigrated to Canada, Elen became a Canadian citizen in October 2021, reading the oath in a virtual ceremony from the living room of her new home. Jaweel and Jwanna proudly supported their mom on this memorable occasion.
If you, or someone you know might be eligible to be considered as a Partner Family with Habitat of Humanity Lethbridge please go to their website lethbridgehabitatforhumanity@gmail.com or call the office for more information 403-327-6612.

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