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

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A memorial remains near the site of where South Surrey mechanic Paul Prestbakmo was killed in August 2019. (Tracy Holmes photo)
Pixabay image
Surrey recovers 29,000 jobs it lost to pandemic

That’s according to Surrey Board of Trade’s fifth Surrey Labour Market Intelligence Report on COVID-19

Desmond Tompkins helped curate and host a youth art show at the South Surrey/White Rock Learning Centre. (Contributed photo)
South Surrey/White Rock Learning Centre art show highlights ‘diverse perspectives’

With COVID-19 protocols in place, youth art show underway

RCMP Isp. Benoit Maure (top right) has written a book, Leading at the Edge, which details Canadian peacekeeping missions, including his own 1999 mission in Guatemala (bottom right). (Contributed photos)
Longtime RCMP officer pens book on Canadian peacekeeping efforts

RCMP Insp. Benoit Maure’s new book, Leading at the Edge, features stories from 10 missions

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

ICBC has seen savings on crash and injury claims in the COVID-19 pandemic, with traffic on B.C. roads reduced. (Penticton Western News)
ICBC opens online calculator for rate savings starting in May

Bypassing courts expected to save 20% on average

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
16% boom predicted for B.C. real estate sales in 2021: experts

Along with sales, the average price of homes is also predicted to rise, by nearly 8 percent

The trial of Harry Richardson began Monday at the Nelson courthouse. File photo
Trial of man accused of shooting RCMP officer in West Kootenay in 2019 begins

Harry Richardson is facing five charges in a Nelson courtroom

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his opening remarks at a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine CEO ‘very, very clear’ that Canada’s contracts will be honoured: Trudeau

Trudeau says he spoke to Moderna CEO on the morning of Jan. 26

Brad Windsor has been an advocate for years to get sidewalks installed along Milburn Drive in Colwood, but to no avail. He wants city council to commit to making Milburn a priority lane for sidewalk construction in the future. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
VIDEO: Dramatic crash caught on B.C. home security camera

Angry residents say video highlights need for sidewalks in B.C. residential neighbourhood

An independent review is underway at the Royal BC Museum after employees called out systemic, individual racism at the institution. (Twitter/RBCM)
Royal BC Museum faces allegations of systemic racism, toxic work environment

Formal investigation, survey and training launched at museum

In this May 23, 2012, file photo, an approximately 2-year-old female cougar runs away from a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife trap after being released northeast of Arlington, Wash. A cougar has attacked and severely mauled a man in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Mark Mulligan/The Daily Herald via AP
Cougar euthanized in B.C. after severely mauling a man north of Vancouver

Whistler RCMP officers were first on the scene and shot and killed a cougar prowling nearby

Most Read