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A Voice from AleppoInterview with Zahida Ibrahim by Bernie Gaudet (with interpreter Hevin Ahmad)
BG: Can you tell our readers where you are from?
ZI: I was born in the town of Afrin, Syria, located in the Aleppo District. I went to the city of Aleppo to study high school. There I met my husband, Muhammed. We stayed in Aleppo for 16 years.
BG: Did you have any further education? What type of employment did you have?
ZI: I only have my high school degree but started working at a pharmaceutical company shortly after graduating. There was some on the job training for the Information Technology work that I was involved
BG: When did you leave Aleppo?
ZI: You’re familiar with what has been happening in Syria? Yes, Civil War. We were hearing more and more about bad things happening to people we know. There were no opportunities for our children in Afrin or Aleppo. In 2011 we decided as a family that we would leave for Turkey and claim refugee status.
BG: From Turkey, did you choose to come to Canada, or to Winnipeg?
ZI: No, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees makes that determination. They asked if we were willing to come to Canada. We said yes and were then told that we were going to Winnipeg.
BG: When did you become a wheelchair user?
ZI: January 7, 2016 – a black day.
BG: Yeah, you remember the exact date.
ZI: It was a Friday, 2:30 am.
BG: What are the biggest challenges you are facing right now?
ZI: There are many. For example, simple things at home, moving around like I am used to, doing something in the kitchen. Or if one of my daughters is sick, I don’t feel I can help her as much as what I would like to. All of my lifestyle has changed.
BG: What differences, if any, have you noticed so far between how people with disabilities are perceived in Syria, Turkey and Canada?
ZI: When I became a paraplegic, I was in Turkey. I believe that if this would have happened while we were still in Syria it would not have been good because people with disabilities are not treated well there. The people in Turkey treated me very well. The doctor was also good, I believe. I received help from many different people and from the government, as well. When I moved to Canada I was hoping to be completely recovered. Obviously, that’s not the case. People have helped here, followed up on different aspects of my care but, for example, the specialist and two neurologists I’ve seen here haven’t given me any hope that I can walk again. This is very disappointing. I thought that in Canada I might find a solution to my condition but this is not the case.
BG: Yes, I agree. Coming to terms with reality is an important first step, and often difficult. But it is equally important to realize the potential of each person; to keep in mind what is possible and to strive towards that.
ZI: Yes, I am beginning to see that now. The last time I went to physiotherapy was much better. We started working on different exercises and it was good. I felt stronger.
BG: Good! I have one last question. What are your goals for immediate future for yourself and for your family?
ZI: The first and most important thing is to ensure my daughters complete the education and go on to university. They can study what they want. My eldest daughter would like to be a surgeon, for example, the second daughter wants to study dentistry. I and my husband need to study English. After that I would like to look at my options to see what I can study and work at later on.
BG: Yes, SCI Manitoba will be assisting you to explore your options for further study and work.
Thank you very much for your time, Zahida.
Zahida, her husband and three daughters came to Winnipeg as refugees in December 2017.