With Faces Lit in Joy, Family of Syrian Refugees Learns to Toboggan in New Canadian Hometown
They had survived running from ISIS in Syria and their neighborhood being bombed in Lebanon, so what was some snow and a speeding toboggan?
The looks on their faces said it all - pure, unadulterated joy with nary a glimpse of fear, despite the fact they were hurtling down a snow-covered hill in Canada.
Meet the Alkhalafs: Amal, 41, and her three children: Ansam, 13; Ibrahim, 10; and Dalya, 9. They are Family No. 417 in Canada, under the country's ambitious effort to provide sanctuary to thousands of refugees from war-torn Syria in communities that agree to sponsor the immigrants.
In Peterborough, Ontario, policeman David McNab and his wife, Kristy Hiltz, are part of a 14-person group that includes a blues musician, an engineer, teachers and a Vietnamese refugee who knows only too well what it is like to flee a country in turmoil.
The ordinary citizens organized in September, prodded by the heart-rending photo of a three-year-old Syrian boy who washed ashore on a Turkish resort after an overburdened refugee boat broke apart.
"That image was just heartbreaking," McNab, 51, told INSIDE EDITION. "You just can't help but wonder how you can help."
And so they did, working with friends, relatives, and a reporter from Maclean's magazine, who traveled to Lebanon, where the family had fled after abandoning their home in Syria and met with Amal.
Journalist Michael Friscolanti chronicled the family's journey to Ontario, and helped smooth a glitch that arose over a medical exam Amal was supposed to undergo, but wasn't notified of.
"If Michael hadn't put us in touch with her, she would still be sitting there," McNab said.
The government provides a certain amound of funding, McNab said, the rest comes out of the volunteers' pockets and from donations solicited from relatives and friends. For privacy reasons, he declined to specify the amount raised so far.
The mother and her three children arrived on Dec. 30 and saw snow for the first time.
Members of the support group have helped the family settle into their new apartment, got the kids enrolled in school and helped Amal conquer the art of riding public transportation.
She speaks Arabic, with a little English. The children are soaking up the new language at a breakneck pace at their new school, McNab said.
"The kids hadn't been to school in two years and they love it. They're learning more and more English everyday," he said.
The family went tobogganing earlier this week, and a raucous time was had by all.
"The family is incredible. They are just so full of joy and think everything is fun. You should see the looks on their faces. They are having the best time," McNab said.
Amal took her children and ran to Beirut after her husband disappeared, McNab said. One day, a few years ago, he left to go to the store and never came back.
Yet she is hopeful that he is still alive, he said. "So we are hopeful, too."
Also this week, the family met the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and handed him an autographed copy of the Maclean's issue with them on the cover.
Amal wrote: "Amal to Jostein." One of her children wrote: "Thank you."
“Family 417” is safe in Peterborough - and had a special gift for me today. Welcome to Canada, Amal Alkhalaf. pic.twitter.com/LZ1EmEDgLH— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 17, 2016