City of Burnaby donated computer helps Syrian refugee family

Connecting vulnerable families with computers is vital for settlement and access to important health information. The donation of a City of Burnaby computer to a Burnaby refugee family illustrates how access to technology has life changing impacts:

Mom Raghda Mallok, 47, went from not knowing how to use a computer mouse to writing email, making Zoom calls and translating school letters from English to Arabic thanks to school district program.

Before 26-year-old Anas Al Salo came to Burnaby as a refugee – back when he was a teenager in Turkey single-handedly supporting his family by working long hours at whatever jobs he could find – he had heard people talk about computers and how amazing they were.

“I used to hear from people that the computer is great for people,” he told the NOW through an Arabic translator. “It’s like if you want something, you can just Google it, and it gives you directions if you want to go to a restaurant or find a service; that’s what I heard from people.”

But Al Salo, who is originally from a small town close to Aleppo, an area decimated during the ongoing Syrian civil war, had never used a computer, let alone owned one.

When his four-person family finally arrived in Burnaby in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic in September, the only thing connecting them to the rest of the world was a single cell phone.

That changed last month, thanks to a program through the Burnaby school district.

‘A dream came true’

From Dec. 1 to 17, Al Salo and his mother, 47-year-old Raghda Mallok, went through a basic computer literacy course at Edmonds Community School.

At the end, they were gifted a desktop computer and webcam provided by the BC Technology for Learning Society.

The course and computer have opened up a whole new world of opportunity, they said.

Mallok, who needed a whole session just to get used to maneuvering the computer mouse, now knows how to send email, make Zoom calls, translate school letters from English to Arabic using Google translate and more.

“It’s like a dream came true, especially for me,” said Mallok, who married at age 14 and has two married daughters in Turkey and two sons in Canada. “I had never thought I’d be working a computer.”

Anas said it was a good feeling to find out he could do all those things he’d heard about once he got a chance to use a computer.

He and his mom are now taking English classes via Zoom.

“For me to be able to go on Zoom and study, that is huge,” Mallok said through the translator.

Increased need

The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on newcomers and refugees, and the school district’s Settlement Workers in Schools program has seen a sharp increase in families, especially the most vulnerable newcomers to Canada, looking for help, according to district settlement services coordinator Natalya Khan.

Computers and phones can be donated to BC Tech For Learning.

Read the full Burnaby Now story here.