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

Greg Chow is the 2021 Local Hero of the Year. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
Fighting fire a family affair for Colwood Assistant Chief Greg Chow

With 38 years of service, Greg Chow is the 2021 Hero of the Year

(Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. residents can reserve provincial camp sites starting March 8

B.C. residents get priority access to camping reservations in province

The Gordon Head Recreation Centre stands in as the Quimper Regional Hospital on Feb. 23 for filming Maid, a 10-part Netflix series. (Greg Sutton/District of Saanich)
Netflix transforms Saanich recreation centre into hospital for filming

Facility was closed to public Feb. 23 for filming of Maid

Sooke Road was down to single lane alternating traffic after a motor vehicle incident Wednesday morning. (Google Maps)
UPDATED: Sooke Road reopen after motor vehicle incident

Emergency crews were on scene of Wednesday morning incident

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.'s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
456 new COVID-19 cases in B.C., 2 deaths

Since January 2020, 78,278 have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in B.C.

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Feb. 23

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media File Photo)
POLL: Are you struggling with Greater Victoria’s cost of housing?

While Victoria remains one of the most expensive cities in the country… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Vaccinating essential workers before seniors in B.C. could save lives: experts

A new study says the switch could also save up to $230 million in provincial health-care costs

The late Michael Gregory, 57, is accused of sexually exploiting six junior high students between 1999 and 2005. (Pixabay)
Former Alberta teacher accused of sexually assaulting students found dead in B.C.

Mounties say Michael Gregory’s death has been deemed ‘non-suspicious’

According to a new poll, a majority of Canadians want to see illicit drugs decriminalized. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Majority of Canadians think it’s high time to decriminalize illicit drugs: poll

More than two-times the B.C. residents know someone who died from an overdose compared to rest of Canada

Photograph By @KAYLAXANDERSON
VIDEO: Lynx grabs lunch in Kamloops

A lynx surprises a group of ducks and picks one off for lunch

Two women were arrested in Nanaimo for refusing to wear masks and causing disturbance on a BC Ferries vessel. (File photo)
B.C. ferry passengers arrested and fined for disturbance, refusing to wear masks

Police said woman threatened their pensions in Feb. 21 incident aboard Nanaimo-bound boat

When his owner had knee surgery, Kevin, 2, was able to continue to go for walks thanks to volunteers from Elder Dog Canada. (Contributed photo)
B.C. woman has nothing but praise for Elder Dog Canada

National organization has a fleet of volunteer walkers ready, but needs more clients to serve

Most Read