A decade ago, amid bloodshed and bombings, Thanon and Farsa Matty believed they could and must make a better life for their young family.
Today, living, working and volunteering in Langley, this refugee couple believe they’re well on their way to a much better way of life for themselves and their four children. And a huge thanks for making that possible goes out to their sponsors, the Catholic church, agencies such as Immigrant Services Society, and caring individuals with organizations such as the Langley Christmas Bureau – all of which have given the Matty family help along the way.
The Iraqi family came to Canada, and specifically Langley, five years ago this month as refugees from Syria.
Most who call Langley home today can’t even imagine the first-hand horrors of war that the Matty family experienced during their two-year stay in Syria, and before that during their life in Iraq.
Needless to say, it was enough to force this mom and dad to seek a better, safer life for their children elsewhere in the world.
They thought of Europe and Austria, where other family had fled. But ultimately, their quest brought them to Langley.
“We think only about the children. We don’t think about ourselves,” said Thanon, who explained how they walked away from a six-bedroom family home and his stable career as an electrician – specializing in refrigeration – to seek a future for their kids (Younan, 17, Reta, 14, Yousif, 10, and now two-year-old John).
Working towards escape
While it was a hard choice to make, they had to flee, Dad explained, noting his family saved up and planned their exit from Iraq for the better part of four years.
Thanon said there was no longer a choice to stay. In 2006, their brother-in-law was gunned down while taking a taxi to village to get wood for his carpentry job.
The kids could no longer attend school because it was unsafe.
And the same year they lost their brother-in-law, Thanon’s brother was kidnapped off the street – while on the way home from his job at a computer shop.
Kidnappers demanded $50,000 U.S. ransom.
“We don’t have that kind of money,” Farsa interjected. So the kidnappers eventually lowered the price to $20,000, then finally settled on $10,000, forcing Thanon and his family to sell every bit of jewelry and almost all their valuables to pay them off.
Seventeen days later, their brother was released and the family began planning in earnest their escape.
“It’s just like a business [there]. It’s easy to make money,” Thanon said of the kidnappings.
Ultimately, the Matty family sold off the rest of their furniture and most of their worldly possessions and fled to Syria in 2010.
They were a relatively well off family in their Iraq village of Kramlees. Their family, including Thanon’s seven sisters, one remaining brother, and mother, still own the home.
And as far as they know, it’s still standing.
But Thanon doesn’t know if he’ll ever see it again. There maybe a time, say 10 years from now – provided there’s peace and it’s safe to travel – that they might return, Farsa said. But only for a visit.
Fled to Syria
Admittedly, life was good there for the first year when they arrived in Syria, in part because it was so inexpensive to live.
But in fall 2011, all that changed when an uprising began. Bombs started fall and every moment of life once again became uncertain in the midst of the civil unrest.
That’s when the Matty family applied to the UN Refugee Agency in Canada and a year later were accepted.
In November 2012, they boarded a 36-hour flight (with stopovers in Dubia and Munich) to their new life in Canada.
They arrived with $75 U.S. to their name and two suitcases each – packed not so much with clothing as the last of their family keepsakes and heirlooms.
Was it the wrong choice?
They came with a dream of a better life for their children, and Thanon is convinced now that they’ve found it.
But he admitted that just after they arrived that he and his wife feared they’d made the wrong choice.
“We don’t know [if] we have sponsors. We don’t know where we’re going to live. We don’t know nothing,” Thanon said, admitting it was almost scarier than living in the war zone.
He had no work, they didn’t know the language, and they couldn’t fathom paying $960 a month for rent on an apartment – when in Syria they’d paid that for an entire year’s accommodations.
But, their sponsors and the local Catholic church were “incredibly” supportive, offering financial aid and friendship – some of which continues today.
The family has since learned English and the older children are all enrolled in private schools and assimilating to life in Canada.
For their youngest son, John who is only two and was born here in Canada, he’s never known the bombings and bloodshed of his family’s homeland, and hopefully never will, said his father.
Instead he’s being brought up in a world where generosity, friendship, and peace are paramount.
A senses of safety
One of things the Matty family is grateful for – especially during the holiday season – is the sense of safety and the incredible friendliness and generosity demonstrated them in Canada.
Coming from a village where it’s unsafe for the children to walk, let alone play on the street alone, and where they lived in constant fear the kids would be killed, kidnapped and ransomed, or snatched and sold for body parts.
Today, they live in downtown Langley City apartment that has giant windows (without bars) overlooking a grassy expanse where the kids can play. There’s only one lock on their front door – instead of five – and they can meander down the main streets of the community as a family, relishing all the Christmas lights and store displays instead of fearing for their life.
The kindness demonstrated to the Mattys by their sponsors, their new friends in their church, even strangers on the street has made them love their new home – and appreciate the bounty of other riches their new life offers.
For instance, the Christmas bureau team was among some of the first people they met when arriving in Langley in November 2012, and the reception made an everlasting impression.
Since then, this growing family has received assistance from the bureau each year.
“We want to give a big thanks to the Christmas bureau and all the sponsors and all the people who worked with us,” Thanon said, now volunteering with the bureau as an interpreter and anxious to find other ways he can help and give back.
“I feel we will succeed. We are very happy,” Thanon said, noting it’s, in part, due to the generosity and kindness that is so abundant here – as evident by the Langley Christmas Bureau.
The bureau has introduced a new Children’s Wish Breakfast this year.
It’s happening Tuesday, Nov. 28, from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. at Newlands Golf & Country Club. Those who bring a new, unwrapped toy or gift receive a free breakfast.
This breakfast is all about giving to those in need and sharing in the spirit of Christmas – it’s about making a difference in the lives of families like the Mattys.