Syrian refugee family in Kelowna eager to learn English

Published Thursday, September 17, 2015  by the Kelowna Daily Courier, Andrea Peacock

Gerry and Mohammed

Learning English has been paramount in adjusting to a new life in Canada for one Syrian refugee family in Kelowna.

Mohammed Alshahoud, his wife Sara and their five youngest children arrived in Kelowna in May.

Sara and the children did not know any English, and the children had not been to school in more than three years while they were living in Jordan.

Mohammed studied some English in school in Syria, but it was a secondary language, he said.

Upon arriving in Canada, Mohammed started taking English classes every morning at the Ki-Low-Na Friendship Centre.

However, the classes were too advanced for Sara, who was just learning the English alphabet at the time, so she went to Project Literacy for one-on-one tutoring.

“She came all summer, and Mohammed came with her at the end of August when the program ended at the Friendship Centre,” said Marilyn Perry, chair of the Central Okanagan Refugee Committee.

“My wife is so motivated,” said Mohammed. “She started talking English with the children at home to practice.”

The five children, ranging in age from nine to 18, received tutoring from Project Literacy tutors through the United Church in Kelowna, because Project Literacy does not take children directly.

“We couldn’t have done it if Project Literacy wasn’t here, because they gave us materials and basically over half of our tutors were Project Literacy tutors,” said Mairi Forsyth, a tutor and liaison for the two schools the five children attend in Kelowna.

Over the summer, the children received an hour and a half of tutoring every morning.

“They are so willing and enthusiastic and ready for anything,” said Jerry Hewitt, Project Literacy tutor and board member of the Central Okanagan Refugee Committee. “They’re really motivated to participate.”

Having his children learn English and expand their education is crucial for Mohammed.

“I came here just for the children’s sake,” he said. “To ensure their future, they have to be educated.”

When his daughter Angham, 16, found out they were coming to Canada, she began studying English nine months ahead of time on her own.

“The kids started out with very few words,” said Hewitt. “We worked on vocabulary, and by the end of the seven weeks we were together, they had moved along to sentence construction.”

Hewitt plans to continue tutoring the children throughout the school year as well, while Mohammed and Sara continue with their English classes.

“Two-thirds of our learners are newcomers to Canada needing to learn English,” said Diana Groffen, executive director of Project Literacy.

The Daily Courier’s Raise a Reader campaign supports Project Literacy Kelowna Society’s provision of free one-on-one literacy tutoring.

To donate, go online to and click on Kelowna under fund/designation, call 1-866-637-7323 or donate in person at Project Literacy, 1635 Bertram Street, Kelowna, V1Y 2G5  (250) 762-2163

On Raise a Reader Day, Sept. 23, approximately 100 volunteers will sell copies of The Daily Courier in exchange for donations.