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Syrian refugee graduates from Selkirk College

Rahaf Zwayne has completed the Hotel and Resort Management program
Rahaf Zwayne on graduation day. Photo: Bob Hall

Rahaf Zwayne graduated this year from the Hotel and Resort Management at Selkirk College. Just over two years ago she arrived in Canada as a refugee from Syria.

She first lived with her sponsor family in Fruitvale and then moved to Nelson to start school.

Zwayne says graduation night “was like a dream come true. I felt like I was settling down in a new home and Selkirk College made it possible for this to come true.”

But she says she had many doubts during the program.

“My country is still suffering. Many people I know there, they would like to be in my position right now. So I sometimes felt guilty, a surviving guilty feeling, when I see what is going on back there. It made me feel down and sometimes felt I could not focus on my studies.

“I had times when I thought, no, I can’t do it. But they (Selkirk College) said no, you are doing great.”

In Syria Zwayne was studying fashion design but the school closed because of the war. She left the country for Turkey with her father and brother when life in their home city of Damascus became too dangerous. This is outlined in more detail, with a video, in a Nelson Star story about Zwayne written not long after she arrived in Nelson.

One of the high points of her Selkirk studies was a practicum at the Fairmont Hotel in Lake Louise, where she worked as a hostess and got very good feedback from staff and guests.

That’s because she is a people person who is inspired by diversity — the traits that initially led her to think the hospitality industry might be for her.

“I am from a multi-cultural place and I am used to diversity, so I realized this is what I need. I believe in diversity and it makes me feel alive. I don’t like to see the same thing every day. I would always like to see different perspectives.”

During her second year Zwayne worked a few hours a week as a student ambassador for the marketing department at Selkirk, and now she is working part time for the college as a resident advisor at the Tenth Street campus residence.

And she has a job at the Kootenay Co-op in the personal care and wellness department. Lately she has found herself demonstrating products by doing customers’ make-up for them.

But the war in Syria has not diminished, nor has her sorrow.

“I try to appreciate every day, but I still have pain in my heart because of what is happening in Syria. What I am doing right now is going to help me rebuild Syria one day, be part of it. I can see it, I can feel it and sense it. That is the dream for us as young people.”

In the meantime, her father and brother have been approved for asylum by the Canadian government and will be arriving in the Kootenays next month.

Related story in the Nelson Star:

From Damascus to the Kootenays: a Syrian asylum seeker in Nelson (Feb. 2017)

Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

Bill has lived in Nelson since 1994 and has worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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