Meet Wael, Rana, and their family

Imagine fleeing a war-torn country, spending years living in a refugee camp with three young children and moving to a new country where you don’t know the language.
Now imagine you and your whole family are Deaf.

This is the experience of Wael and Rana, and their now four children, Mohamad (15), Mahmoud (13), Shahd (12), and Ibrahim (4). 

In Nova Scotia, deaf people experience some of the highest rates of poverty and isolation compared to hearing people. This is why United Way Halifax has funded critical programs at the Society of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Nova Scotians (SDHHNS) for over 25 years.   

The family’s journey began with an escape from Syria to Jordan during the war. It was a two week walk, during which they were faced with constant communication challenges. Rana recalls one time when military personnel were shouting commands at them, but without knowing that they were all Deaf, the family seemed to be non-compliant. Rana suffered the consequences with a blow to her back from the butt of a gun.  

Wael and Rana finally made it to Halifax in 2016. They immediately enrolled in a literacy and settlement support program for Deaf and hard of hearing newcomers run in partnership by the Society of Deaf & Hard of Hearing Nova Scotians (SDHHNS) and the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS). But Wael and Rana encountered a barrier: they used Arabic Sign Language, not American Sign Language. Fortunately, the organizations worked together to find someone who knew both sign languages and could bridge that communication gap.

In addition to the literacy programs, executive director Frank O’Sullivan and the rest of the SDHHNS staff have been a lifeline for Wael, Rana and their children, helping them to navigate through an abled world and build independence.

Here is an example to help put things into perspective. When they first moved to Halifax, administrators at the children’s schools couldn’t simply call Wael or Rana if there was an emergency. Texting wasn’t an option either yet, as both parents were still learning written English. So Frank was listed as the children’s emergency contact. The school could text him and he would relay the message to Wael and Rana on FaceTime.

This is just one example of the invaluable and essential support SDHHNS provides to the Deaf and hard of hearing community. Their programs and services include sign language interpreting services, accessibility and communication devices, financial literacy, healthy lifestyle workshops, one-on-one supports, social networking, and enhancing access to education, training, and employment.

For Wael and Rana, their goals are to one day work in Nova Scotia and have incomes to support their children. Wael is a tradesperson with a skillset that is very high in demand. Right now, he’s working to improve his understanding of English so he can communicate with future employers and clients. Rana is interested in working in a hotel alongside her brother and passing her driver’s license test! But their primary focus right now is making sure their children are succeeding, and by the sounds of it, they most certainly are.  

The children are picking [the English language] up very quickly, and they are teaching us. [They are] quite a success story, learning from Arabic Sign Language to American Sign Language and written English.