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Three years after fleeing war, Syrian teen thriving in Calgary

Just after Christmas, Nagham Ghanam posted to her Facebook, marking an important anniversary.

At a glance, the message looks like any social media post from a 16-year-old– written in nearly-flawless English and punctuated with emojis. But it would have been impossible for her to craft just three years earlier: The day she arrived in Canada from Syria as a refugee

“It was really hard because I actually didn’t speak any words,” said Ghanam . “I only knew how to say “hi.” And when I heard people saying ‘welcome,’ I was like, ‘What is that? What does welcome mean?’”

Three years later, Ghanam is showing how it’s possible for a teen to thrive in a new country, with some help from her new friends.

She and her family lived in the city of Aleppo, but came to Canada in 2015 under a sponsorship program.

Ghanam said she remembers many things about the civil war that forced her family to flee.

“It’s hard times so I don’t forget these days,” she said. “I remember a lot of hard days there. I remember a lot of bombing and things. Even though I was young – I could understand a lot of thing that not everyone at this age would understand.”

However her first few months in Canada posed the new challenge of learning the language, and adapting to a new country.

“It was really difficult to communicate with people, and to be involved with the community,” she said.

“After the third month – I started learning English. I started getting even more knowledge of it. People were helping us to improve our English.”

At school, She was in ESL programs at first, but she made the greatest improvement when she changed school to fully immerse herself in English.

Along the way, she said friends and classmates were always helpful helping her to learn the language.

“I’ve never met someone who was rude to me – they were all nice to me,” she said. “They were all supportive when I made mistakes. Speaking English is always making mistakes, and they would always correct me in a nice way.”

Sam Nammoura, co-founder of the Calgary Immigrant Support Society, saw Ghanam ’s post and shared it to his group’s Facebook page.

“When I saw that post by Ghanam – for me it was just a reassurance for that family and how they’re doing now after three years,” he said. “The results of a good deed and compassion turned this family around.”

Nammoura said there were problems with Ghanam’s family’s initial sponsor, but two churches and a synagogue as well as other individuals stepped in to support them.

He said the entire family is now doing well. Ghanam’s parents have started their own business, and her siblings are excelling in school, too.

“Her words were so simple but so excited– that’s why she touched lot of people’s heart with a few words.”

Ghanam said when she’s not in school she likes to get out with her friends and try new restaurants. She likes trying new cuisines even though she’s not a fan of every new food she tries.

Her love of food extends to school, where’s she’s taking a class in culinary arts, learning to cook meals and desserts.

Ghanam also recently started her first part-time job as a cashier at Wal-Mart.

“It’s pretty much what I wanted because I wanted to fill out some of my free time,” she said. “That’s my first job, ever, in my life. I really like it.”

It’s a start, but her career ambitions reach much higher than her current job.

“I definitely want to go to university – what I want to be is a lawyer, so it’s a lot of studying” she said.

“I know it’s complicated here, but I want to go to university and study law.”