Professor opens up her home to a Syrian family

Posted on Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Four women sit in a kitchen, smiling.

From left: Luna, Luise von Flotow, Ayda Noofoori and Isis. Photo: Aida Stratas

By Aida Stratas

Professor Luise von Flotow had some special house guests over Christmas: newly arrived Syrian refugees Ayda, Isis and Luna Noofoori.

The uOttawa professor and director of the University’s School of Translation and Interpretation hosted the family for several weeks while they waited for more permanent housing. Ayda, a librarian from Damascus, arrived with her two grown daughters in December from Lebanon, where they had spent the past three years.

“I’ve always shared my space with others, and this particular family was so respectful, tidy and helpful – and the mother is an excellent cook,” said Flotow.

Luise von Flotow’s daughter, Leonore Evans, encouraged her mother to become involved with the Ottawa Centre Refugee Action (OCRA), one of the volunteer organizations helping refugees settle in the city. The professor did not need much convincing. 

“When my parents came to Canada as refugees from East Germany in 1945, there was no support system, no social services or financial assistance of any kind,” she says. “They had three cameras, which they sold to survive. And they had to find work right away.” The challenges her parents had faced led her to open her door and her heart to the Noofooris in their own time of need.

The three guests stayed in the bedrooms once occupied by Flotow’s children – who became frequent visitors, helping out in various ways. Leonore moved back home temporarily to be there when the Noofooris first arrived and the professor was out of the country.

Along with her sister Charlotte, Leonore helped introduce her mother’s house guests to local holiday traditions. Celebrating Christmas together meant staying close to the fireplace – the temperature change was a bit of a shock. The Noofooris also discovered new things, such as maple syrup and bagels, and were especially astonished that Canadians buy their milk in bags. 

The professor’s efforts to help Syrian refugees did not stop there. She also arranged for two uOttawa PhD students to provide training in translation and interpretation to local Arabic speakers interested in assisting newly arrived refugees. The training took place through the Association of Translators and Interpreters of Ontario (ATIO).

Flotow has advice for others thinking about opening up their home to refugees: “You have to be really open-minded about having other individuals living in your space. You need to be polite and to make time for them – you either take them in or you don’t.”

Meanwhile, the Noofooris have moved to a permanent home and are busy building their new lives. These newcomers speak English well, which is making their adjustment much smoother.  Ayda would like to work or volunteer in a library. Isis, 26, will pursue a master’s degree in art history or archeology. Luna, 19, has received a scholarship to study international relations in the fall in Illinois. For now, both sisters are looking for paid or volunteer work.

Luna says that staying with the professor “was very educational and heart-warming for our family.” For Flotow, “the whole experience was personally rewarding. And the food was really good!”

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