COQUITLAM — Shergo Kurdi lifts his shirt to reveal a pale, mottled patchwork of burn scars on his belly and chest — a legacy, he says, of years spent ironing fabric in a Turkish clothing factory after he and his family fled war-torn Syria in 2012.
Now, nine months after arriving in B.C. with his parents and four siblings, the 15-year-old refugee is preparing to enter Grade 10 and wants to one day become a police officer.
“I like … to help people,” Shergo said, explaining that he likes the idea of giving back.
Shergo and his siblings are the cousins of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose lifeless body was photographed on the shores of a Mediterranean beach last September. The picture spread across the globe and jarred the world into responding to the Syrian refugee crisis.
In the wake of the photograph, the Canadian government committed to taking in tens of thousands of displaced Syrians, a pledge that paved the way for the Kurdi family’s arrival in late December.
Speaking in broken English at his aunt’s home in Coquitlam, Shergo talked about how difficult his job was in Istanbul. Shifts sometimes lasted as long as 24 hours, he said, and frequently he didn’t get paid.
The teen used a metaphor to explain how his life has been affected by the move to B.C.
“It’s like a flower: (if) he doesn’t have water he (will) die. Come to Canada, he has water and opens up again,” he said.
Shergo’s sister, 16-year-old Heveen Kurdi, also spoke positively about her time in Canada, and of being reunited with her father, Mohammad Kurdi, who spent nine months in Germany trying to get his family out of Turkey and missed the birth of his youngest child.
“The whole family (is) together again,” Heveen said, smiling.
She explained that after finishing grade school she wants to study dentistry at university. She added that she’ll provide free dental work for her family, which prompted her mother, Ghouson Dakouri, to grin and chime in with “Mom is first.”
Still, Heveen said she thinks about her friends and family back in the Middle East every day.
Housing, jobs still concerns
The challenges aren’t over for the Kurdis, as they continue to grapple with finding permanent lodging and securing employment for Mohammad.
The family of seven initially lived with Tima Kurdi, Mohammad’s sister, in Coquitlam. But since June they’ve resided in a group home in downtown Vancouver alongside dozens of other Syrian refugees while they wait for a stable living arrangement to open up.
The Kurdis said the facility accommodates about 70 other people, mostly children, and that their living quarters consist of only two sleeping rooms.
Work is also a challenge. Mohammad, who is a barber, said he must be available to inspect a possible home at a moment’s notice, which makes it difficult to maintain regular, full-time working hours.
Heveen said she hopes they find somewhere permanent to live before September, so she won’t have to risk moving schools and starting over yet again.
Seated on a couch in Tima’s home with his family around him, Mohammad smiled as his youngest child, 13-month-old Sherwan Kurdi, dragged a toy dog through the living room.
Speaking through his sister, Mohammad said he feels happy and proud to see his kids like this, the trauma of their ordeal fading from memory.
“Seeing the kids, it’s happy,” said Tima. “He’s happy.”
Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press