The Globe and Mail is looking at people who have been touched by the refugee crisis in British Columbia, from sponsors and teachers to the refugees themselves.
When Hazar al-Sibai arrived in Vancouver as a refugee from Syria nearly a year ago, she relied on an interpreter to navigate her new life in Canada. Now, her English has progressed so well, she's reversed that role, becoming an Arabic interpreter herself for other new arrivals.
"Maybe I'm useful for somebody else," Ms. al-Sibai says. "And I enjoyed to help them. It gives me very good feeling."
Ms. al-Sibai enrolled in an English-language course at MOSAIC, a non-profit organization that helps new immigrants and refugees get settled, when her family arrived in January. A month ago, one of her language instructors asked her to volunteer as an interpreter for Arabic speakers in beginner levels during their end-of-term assessment interviews. She said yes, but she was nervous.
"It's my first time to be interpreter," Ms. al-Sibai says. "When I come here, there's interpreter for me and I think my English is not good."
Despite her modesty, Ms. al-Sibai, who was a civil engineer back in her city of Homs in Syria, has graduated to the level-seven English class beginning next month. It's the last level before students are ready to work in English.
The assessment interviews in MOSAIC's language courses are meant to be an opportunity for students to get one-on-one feedback from their instructors about how they've progressed and areas they still need to work on. There were four Syrian refugees in the first- and second-level classes who did not yet have the language skills to communicate in English. Some of them arrived to Vancouver on the same flight as Ms. al-Sibai and her family.
"She went and sat with the teacher and students in the low levels," says Wendy Morris, who was Ms. al-Sibai's instructor for 11 weeks. "She helped the teacher explain to the students where they need to work."
Ms. al-Sibai says Ms. Morris's encouragement played a big part in persuading her to volunteer as a translator. But she also felt an obligation to help fellow Syrians because she is one of the only Arabic speakers at MOSAIC whose English is advanced enough to be able to translate. Now that she's done some translating, her confidence is building.
Interpreters are crucial actors in helping refugees navigate the difficult transition from life in Syria to living in Vancouver. Not only is the language an obstacle; so is understanding everything from the education system, to housing, to the job market.
"Canada is very far from the Middle East," Ms. al-Sibai says. "Everything is different, food, the weather, another culture. Everything is difficult."
Ms. al-Sibai knows how difficult it is to become accredited as an engineer in Canada and is coming to terms with the fact that she likely won't be able to work in that field again. Because she had experience as a tutor, she hoped to one day become an Arabic teacher in Vancouver. Her goal was to help young Arab children learn the language and keep a connection to their home country, children such as her youngest son, who she worries will forget his mother tongue.
But now, she's been inspired to pursue translating as a professional goal.
"I think maybe in the future I can work in this field. Maybe after one year, because I have a very good Arabic and in the future, I hope I have English," Ms. al-Sibai says. "It make me very happy to help people, Arab people and Syrian people in language."
If you ask Ms. Morris, she says Ms. al-Sibai is particularly well-suited to working as a translator.
"She's so kind and measured, she doesn't fly off the handle," the language instructor says. "She would be really good as a translator because she's empathetic."
Ms. al-Sibai is also modest and self-deprecating about her progress and her abilities. She laughs about English words she still has a difficult time pronouncing.
"I can interpret, I think [interpret] is a very difficult word," she jokes. "Translate is easier. I will use translate. I like translate more."
For now, she is focused on completing her next language course so that she'll be ready to work next spring. Ms. al-Sibai hopes she'll be able to help as an interpreter for Arab-speaking newcomers again soon.