Jahn Edlebi and his wife Souad Bitar moved to Sylvan Lake as refugees in 2018. Submitted photo

Jahn Edlebi and his wife Souad Bitar moved to Sylvan Lake as refugees in 2018. Submitted photo

Syrian refugee couple shares pride in calling Canada home

Jahn Edlebi and Souad Bitar thank Sylvan Lakers for help with transitioning to life in foreign land

Having fled war to find refuge in Sylvan Lake, a Syrian couple shares pride in calling Canada their new home.

Jahn Edlebi and his wife Souad (Sousou) Bitar transitioned from living in refugee camps to life in a small Albertan town as part of the 2018 Sylvan Lake Refugee Project.

They were one of four families to be privately sponsored by the community. For the first year, the project covered all needs of the families including housing, bills, language lessons and clothing, among any other support.

“They consider us as a part of their family,” Edlebi said. “People treat us the way they treat themselves. This country is great because of its people.”

With the escalation of the Syrian civil war to an armed conflict in 2012-13, Edlebi and Souad, similar to thousands of others, made the difficult decision to move out of their homeland. Increased inflation caused further struggles with basic life needs such as groceries and resources to keep warm.

Originally working as a lab technician for a hospital in Aleppo, Edlebi left for Lebanon in December of 2013. Expecting the war to be short-lived, he had plans to return to Syria in no time.

“I love my country and had never imagined one day I would move out”

Edlebi ended up spending five years as a refugee in Lebanon.

Seeing no signs of de-escalation for over two years, Bitar, who had been living with her brother in Venezuela since 2011, decided to finally join Edlebi to start a life together.

Through common contact, Edlebi got in touch with Sylvan Lake resident Onsy Tawadrous, who spearheaded the refugee project. The couple arrived in Canada in 2018 and were welcomed by the community of Sylvan Lake with open arms.

From language and cultural barriers to working a full-time job in the country, the couple have come a long way.

“The people understood that we were going to have those barriers and tried to explain everything with patience. It took us time to understand the environment that we are living in right now.”

When venturing out for his first walk around town, Edlebi found himself lost among what he felt was an endless row of identical houses. It took him two hours to find his home, which was just a few minutes away.

They later learned about the system of street names and house numbers.

“It’s very easy right now. But at first, when we arrived, it was a big problem for us to understand such information.”

Edlebi was enraptured by the kind and polite nature of the locals.

“It’s very nice to have someone say hello to you and smile.”

Through community support, Edlebi eventually landed a part-time job at the Sylvan Lake Canadian Tire that helped him hone his communication skills. Within months, he was hired as a full-time employee.

After three years of working for the organization and with some health issues around lifting heavy items, Edlebi found a part-time job at a pizza store in Red Deer. Enjoying working in the food industry, he started working full-time at the pizza store and also found a second part-time job at Subway.

Bitar started working part-time at Subway as well, but is now hoping to work for a daycare or as a babysitter instead.

The couple has recently applied for their citizen status.

“I am proud to be a part of this country. This country gave me something I could have never imagined.

“As a person who comes from a different side of the world, I want to mention that Canada is a great country and has a lot of blessings for all the citizens here. This blessing should be appreciated.

“The freedom to speak, to think, move, and express yourself the way you are.

“It’s a great country.”