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Life after Syria

Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge celebrates over two years of resettlement
By: Will Sloan
August 31, 2017

Nabil Hawa had one exam left before the war struck. Then, like thousands of others, he and his family found themselves without a country.

“I was a doctor back home in Syria,” said Hawa. “I studied microbiology for four years and worked in a private laboratory for five years. I specialized in pediatrics, but I haven’t completed it because of the war—I had only the last exam, but I couldn’t attend.” Hawa, his wife, and their three children became part of the masses of displaced Syrians moving between refugee camps—first in Lebanon, then in Turkey. “I worked for almost 10 years in study. I’m almost 40. And after that, I say ‘bye bye’ to my study.”

On December 12, 2016, Hawa and his family were among the wave of new arrivals to Canada during the Syrian refugee crisis. They are also among the 437 newcomers sponsored by the Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge (RULSC), a collaborative venture between four Toronto universities to support and resettle displaced Syrians. Established in July 2015 with the goal of sponsoring 10 families, RULSC has surpassed that goal more than seven times over, raising almost $5 million thanks to a network of more than 1,000 volunteers (including students, staff, faculty, alumni, donors and community members).

On August 24, RULSC hosted a barbeque in the Ryerson Quad bringing together newcomers and volunteers to celebrate the achievement. Prior to the event, Hawa reflected on the change in his family’s life.

“It’s a new life, a new community, a new society,” said Hawa. “You have challenges; you need to know the environment very well; and it was a challenge for me, for my wife, and my children as well. They have to study to change their language.”

For Hawa, the loss of his career has been devastating. “It’s challenging, because wherever I go, people tell me, ‘Your high school is old—more than seven years.’ What should I do? I don’t know. Should I study high school again or not? … Educated people don’t know where to go. Even my friends say to me, ‘I’m hopeless—I’m 50 years old. I was an engineer back home, and here no hope for me.’ That’s a big challenge. But the future is for children.”

He holds out hope that he may be able to return to his professional sphere. “I want to find jobs in nursing or pharmacy or microbiology or as a lab technician.”

For now, Hawa’s children are his top priority. “I’d like to thank Canada so much for welcoming us and giving us hope, especially for the children. We had no certainty back in Turkey and Lebanon, but here in Canada, you can make a future for your children.”

RULSC continues to support Syrian refugees through volunteer committees offering translation/interpretation, financial literacy training, peer mentoring, tutoring, and employment assistance. “Lifeline Syria helped me by sponsoring me,” said Hawa. “They are generous and kind people, and I appreciate their efforts. They’re going to do everything they can. Of course, you can’t ask for something that’s impossible for them. But in our life, they help us with everything.”

For more information on the Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge, including information on how to volunteer, email