Client Maryam: artist, optimist, refugee


Maryam is an artist, fashion designer, refugee from Syria, and Global Gathering Place client.

Before arriving from Aleppo 1 year and 8 months ago, Maryam was afraid of the Saskatoon cold she’d read about, coming from a place with a low of -4 degrees. But like many other challenges Maryam has faced, she started her new life with positivity and determination.

Maryam arrived to Canada with dreams of going to college or getting a good job within a year of arriving. In Syria, she had previously attended college, worked as a fashion designer, and was an artist with a big extended family and busy life. However, when she arrived everything was new—the language, culture, and of course the weather. The language barrier was massive and even with daily English classes, progress was slower than expected. Another surprise was the high cost of college.

While the reality was different than her expectations, Maryam immediately appreciated the “humanistic and just” spirit of Canada. In terms of social connections, Maryam’s private sponsors were key and quickly became her Canadian role models. A wonderful cook, Maryam hosts monthly dinners for her sponsors, preparing Middle Eastern food for about 15 people. She also took a job cooking at a Middle Eastern restaurant in the evenings, and spent three months working with the Saskatoon Academy of Fashion Design. Maryam maintains her small home business offering fashion design and tailoring, in addition to taking English classes.

When Maryam arrived to Saskatoon, she initially took English classes at local school but they didn’t offer other activities. At another organization, she didn’t get much help when she enquired about their offerings. Maryam came to GGP and met Doha, who sat with her and discussed the programs. Maryam says Doha gave her encouragement and hope, and Maryam decided to attend Coffee and Conversation, despite not speaking or understanding English. She smiles recalling a man from Egypt who translated back and forth so she and the others could talk.

Outside of private sponsors, Maryam didn’t have much other social interaction until she came to GGP. Volunteers Lawrence, Alan, and Walter became dear connections and she became friends with many others as well. Maryam jumped into other GGP programs and has since participated in more programs than almost any other client!

Maryam says, “I find all of GGP’s programs are valuable, useful, helpful, and all the team are very kind.” Swimming Without Fear enabled Maryam to learn to swim and get comfortable with water. Family, Fun & Fit helped her learn about the area and meet other newcomers. Coffee & Conversation, GGP’s longest running program, has allowed Maryam to meet people from all over the world, practise English, and feel welcomed.

GGP also connected Maryam to a local art program through a partnership with Void Gallery, through which she shared her story of being a refugee with the broader community. Creating her gorgeous zine“love and war”allowed Maryam to use her artistic skills to share her story with others in both Arabic and English.

When asked about the most memorable moments in Saskatoon, Maryam talks about the “very nice and humble people”. For example, she says, on the bus maybe nobody will give her their seat but they will look at her and smile. It’s hard not to smile at Maryam, whose warmth is contagious. We are so glad she is part of the GGP community!