Samira Adamo packed lightly when she left Al-Hasakah, Syria, in September 2016. Her home was becoming increasingly volatile; any moment, she said, the entire city could fall apart.
She left much of her furniture, books and keepsakes at home, which was doomed to become one of the millions of houses abandoned in Syria.
“I told everyone that I want to make sure that whoever is going to take over my house at least finds something nice,” Adamo, 60, said, adding that doing so helped her deal with the difficulty of leaving home.
Adamo, now resettled in Toronto, is one of 20 women who took part in a recent travelling wellness program that caters to newly arrived Syrian women struggling with the guilt and trauma of leaving home and settling in a new country.
Adamo, who taught in Syria for 35 years, walks every day for more than an hour to get to the program and is always there 15 minutes early, she said.
On the last day of the four-week program in Scarborough, which taught the women about self-care, mental health and yoga, the conversation was light and they brought food for a potluck. The wellness workshop, which began in Guelph, Ont., will next travel to Mississauga in early February.
The program in Scarborough ended in late November with a potluck and a final session. It was the end of a long day for many of the women, who often care for their children, attend English learning classes and scramble across the city for doctor’s appointments and meetings.
The group, including some members who arrived in Canada last year and others who arrived a few weeks ago, sat around a squared table conversing and laughing with one another. Some sat quietly, smiles on their faces, listening to the other members.
Teenage girls, the daughters of some of the women, sat on a couch, huddled over a phone. A young girl in the room played with a plush rabbit with bendable ears, which she twisted with her small fingers while lost in thought.
Usually, children are not allowed in the room, said Zeena Al Hamdan, a manager at the Arab Community Centre of Toronto, which was one of the three organizations carrying out the program.
But on the last day of the program in Scarborough, the children were invited for the potluck and to see their mothers receive certificates for completing the program.
“The discussion tends to get very personal and in-depth, the women speak about the past and their current experiences with settlement,” Al Hamdan said. “It starts off with very basic issues and then layers are uncovered and the realities of displacement come through.”
The women talked about the family they left behind in Syria and some of their children who are now separated from them, living in countries such as Germany and America. They spoke about the guilt and pain that weighs them down as they hear news reports about the ongoing violence and destruction in Syria.
“If a person goes to any another support group and if the other members haven’t experienced displacement and migration, then they might find it difficult to open up to them,” Al Hamdan said. “There are layers and layers that you cannot share and open up, these women pour their hearts out to each other.”
Iman Huseyin attended the program along with her mother and sister. Her favourite part of the workshop, she said, was the yoga sessions.
“I loved getting together with other women because we are so busy and stressed doing one thing after another,” Huseyin said. “We wait for these two hours a week to gather with each other and talk.”
Huseyin met many of the women for the first time in Canada, as most of them came from different parts of Syria. One of the ladies, she said, she had met in Turkey, where they were displaced. Huseyin left Aleppo in 2013 along with her four children.
“There were lots of problems,” she said. “It wasn’t safe, sometimes you spent two to three days in the basement not knowing what is going on and supplies were running low, there was a lot of bombing and you didn’t know where it was coming from.”
Huseyin has lived in Canada for a year and a half. She says she feels safe and comfortable in Canada but is constantly worried about her father and a few sisters, who are still in Aleppo. The same anxiety plagued many of the women in the wellness program as the war had split thousands of families apart.
Two instructors lead the program in Arabic every Tuesday for four weeks. The group of about twenty women talked about nutrition, mental health and self-care.
“I think for them its more meditation,” said Marwa Khobieh, program manager at the Syrian Canadian Foundation, one of the three organizers. “These are the moments in their day that make them feel relaxed and comfortable, enjoying their time together and learning.”