After a year of study, Lena Alhamad, at the wheel, and her husband, Hussam Al Hassan, recently obtained their BC Driver’s licences. The parents of four children are thrilled by the welcome Salmon Arm has given them and are committed to giving back to the community.-Image credit: Jim Elliott/Salmon Arm Observer

Syrian mother gets behind the wheel

Ability to drive gives Salmon Arm newcomer and her husband more freedom

Lena Alhamad has accomplished what few Syrian women have.

This fall, a proud and delighted Alhamad earned her driver’s licence, two days after her husband Hussam Al Hassan succeeded in getting his licence.

As is the Muslim custom, a married woman retains her own name when matters pertain to her only. But as a family unit, the husband’s name takes precedence.

With a wide smile, Alhamad explains, in ever-improving English, that she likes everything about her new home – the people and the environment.

Sponsored by Shuswap Rotary, Alhamad came to Salmon Arm in February 2016 with her husband and sons Barkat, who is now eight, Moammar six, and Rimas, who is now three-and-a-half.

Fifteen-month-old Linda was born in Salmon Arm and is named after former Shuswap Rotary Club member Linda Wilson, who was instrumental in helping the Al Hassan family settle into the community. Wilson, who has since relocated to Victoria, became so close to the family that she is known as “Nana” to the Al Hassan children.

Being able to drive has given Alhamad the freedom to get herself and her children out and about within the community.

Going beyond city boundaries will be left until next spring when the snow is gone and roads are dry, says Sherry Gilroy, one of several Shuswap Rotary members who helped Alhamad learn to drive.

“It took quite a while to go beyond 10 kilometres in a parking lot,” laughs Gilroy, noting Alhamad’s initial mantra was “brake slow, gas go.”

Alhamad laughs too, as she recounts how nervous she was the first time she drove down Okanagan Avenue from the parking lot of the Community Church.

“We went too fast,” she says with wide eyes and a huge grin.

But a year after studying both the book and fulfilling practical requirements, Alhamad is proud of her driving skills and grateful to her ‘driving teachers’ that included Elaine Hansen, Leah Shaw and Indira Greenhough.

Eager to be self-sufficient members of the community, the couple continues to hone their English skills four days a week and Alhamad has also earned her FoodsSafe certificate.

Al Hassan works part-time with School District #83 and, proud of his wife’s excellent cooking, sees an ethnic restaurant in the couple’s future.

Gilroy says anyone who has tasted food prepared by Alhamad is eager for more. Some folks who know the family well have already, on occasion, called her to ask if she could prepare a “take-out” dinner for them.

And in an effort to give back to the community that has welcomed her, Alhamad donated a meal to Shuswap Rotary’s annual auction and will soon do the same for another local non-profit’s fundraising campaign.

Taking her cooking to the rest of the community is a longer-term dream. At this point, perfecting their English is the top priority for Alhamad and Al Hassan.

A look of relief crosses Alhamad’s face as she talks about living in a safe, welcoming community and how her older boys love soccer. A hockey fan, Barkat enjoys watching the game on TV and on testing his skills on PlayStation.

Gilroy says it is a far cry from the early days when Barkat and Moammar would look for a place to hide in response to loud sounds.

Alhamad’s joy at living in freedom and security is tempered by her experiences in her native Syria and fear for family members who remain in the war-torn country.

Alhamad was living in Aleppo with her mother-in-law while her husband worked in Lebanon when the brutal fight began between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and ISIS.

The situation was so dangerous that Alhamad lost her newborn son Hager. He died two days after being born because it was too dangerous to make the trip to the hospital for help. Hager would be four-and-a-half now.

She left Syria with Barkat and Moammar in 2013, joining Al Hassan in Lebanon. Her mother-in-law remains in her Aleppo home. Alhamad continues to grieve over her sister, who also lost a son, and two of her brothers who are missing. Another brother, his wife and four children are in a refugee camp in Turkey. It is Alhamad’s hope that they will one day come to Canada.

Just Posted

Vernon gym shows heart for North Okanagan Hospice

Iron Heart Gym hosts fundraiser for Hospice and the 2019 Dancing With the Vernon Stars

Lumby Fire Department douses potential wildfire

Site was barely out of their jurisdiction, but department put out fire at request of BC Wildfire

UPDATE: B.C. Hydro explain vandalism that caused Vernon power outage

According to B.C. Hydro, around 2,400 Vernon residents were without power from 4:30- 7 p.m. Monday

SPCA seek public’s help for cat found injured on Vernon road

Stallone is suffering from several injuries and remains in SPCA care

Man arrested in Kelowna following Shuswap vehicle thefts, pursuit

Suspect wanted in Alberta allegdly also stole several vehicles near Sicamous over the weekend

West Kelowna vet saves turtle from hook

Dr. Moshe Oz removed fish hook lodged in the turtle’s throat

$1.5 billion in frigate-repair contracts split among yards in three provinces

The federal government has promised to invest $7.5 billion to maintain the 12 frigates

Anglican Church to review governance structure after same-sex marriage change fails

Some say the current system to change doctrine gives too much voting power to a smaller class of bishops

B.C. adding fast-charge stations for electric highway trips

Okanagan, Vancouver Island, Kootenay stations ready for use

Comedian Gerry Dee ready to lighten things up at BC Hockey Hall of Fame

Canadian actor and stand-up comedian Gerry Dee is hosting the event in Penticton

Casa Loma residents petition to halt proposed Blackmun Bay project

West Kelowna City Council grants second reading for what would be the city’s largest development

South Okanagan RCMP seize firearms from residence

Penticton RCMP blocked access to a cul de sac off Pineview Road on Tuesday

The Okanagan’s master tailor from Chile

Sam Galvez started his business 6 years ago and hasn’t stopped loving it

Worried about bats? Here’s what to do if you come across one in B.C.

Bat expert with the BC Community Bat Program urges caution around the small creatures

Most Read