Mohammed Alsaleh came to Canada a little more than a year ago as a refugee from Syria. “Leaving the country was not an option – I had to,” he says, having had family and friends killed and his hometown destroyed in the war. “This is something that was forced on millions of Syrians. I was one of them.”
“There are not enough words to describe how bad it is in the country,” he says.
In Syria he was studying to be a doctor; here in Canada he was told he couldn’t pick up where he left off, but would have to start at the beginning. He focused on school – he pursued a diploma in health care – improving his English and finding a job.
He discovered the library – a place for books (some in Arabic as well), for learning and support. “It’s like my home,” he says. “After my English classes I would come here and study. The first card I had here in Canada was a library card, and the first book I took out was Arabic poetry to keep me connected to my native tongue.”
“We have a saying in Arabic: Knowledge is light and ignorance is darkness. Vancouver Public Library is the candle that lights the community of Vancouver.”
Among the most helpful services he experienced at VPL: the free job search workshops, which with other offerings have long been part of how libraries support newcomers.
He’s continuing to juggle work and studies, and has most recently volunteered as an interpreter with a Vancouver settlement agency to help support the growing number of Syrian refugees who are coming to the region. And as part of how he’ll be helping them to get to know their new home: he’ll be telling those newcomers about the Library.
As he says, “Canada chose me and I’m glad that Canada gave me this opportunity to have this start-over. I owe my life to this country.”