Reflections on my time with the Saeed family

Rufaida al Khabbaz, Taim Saeed, and Jamal Saeed sit in their new apartment here in Kingston after arriving in Canada just days before the end of 2016. The family, originally from Syria, were sponsored by the Kingston Writers’ Refugee Committee. Missing from the photo is Ghamr Saeed, the family’s eldest son, who was at work at the time. Photo by Tori Stafford.

In my position as lead writer and editor in chief here at Kingstonist, I receive multiple press releases on a daily basis, sometimes on an hourly basis. I try to sort them into different files – upcoming events, things that must be covered immediately, things I want to throw to my team to see if anyone is interested in covering them… It’s a little system, and I’m the one who has to make the decisions.

Most days, this is a rather benign process. It’s not that I don’t get excited for upcoming events, or news from local organizations – I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t – but it is a part of my every day happenings, like others check their social media accounts and email a few times daily… only I do it at least 12 hours a day most days.

Last week, I received a press release that did something to me no other press release has. It came to me from the Limestone District School Board, and, as I read it, my eyes began to fill with tears of sheer joy, excitement, and pride. That’s because the main subject of the release, Taim Saeed, I first met on the day he and his family moved into their apartment here in Kingston – their new home after fleeing Syria a few years prior. That was three years ago.

For journalists, some stories you cover stay with you, and you think about them often. For me, meeting the Saeeds and getting to opportunity to tell their stories was one of those assignments – so much so that I went back to visit them six months later to get an update on how they were settling in. A standout moment from that first day I spent with the Saeeds was when an overjoyed Jamal, the patriarch of the family, expressed his gratitude for how the Kingston Writers’ Refugee Committee had thought of everything the family could possibly need.

“Wait right there,” Jamal told me as he got up and rushed excitedly to their kitchen. He returned, holding an item in the palm of his hand, which he extended out for me to see.

“They even got us this!” Jamal exclaimed, proudly holding out the item. “Do you know what it is?”

I smiled broadly, letting him know that I, indeed, know what the item was.

“For holding your rings while you do the washing!” he confirmed, turning the ring crystal ring holder over in his hands. “I never heard of such things!”

So simple, yet such a hugely symbolic moment – he was overwhelmed that the Committee had thought of even the things the family didn’t need, but might enjoy.

All four of the family members struck me when we met. They were all very pure and honest in their responses to my questions, and their responses allowed me to see each of them as unique, but also as a family that loved and lived together. But as I was wrapping up a (way too long) interview with them, I believe the second one, I remember turning my attention to Taim, 15 at the time, and his brother Ghamr, who was 17.

On the couch in their living room, I leaned back and turned towards the brothers, trying to ask questions to coax them out of their shells – it is not abnormal for children and youth to be shy when you interview them, particularly when there is any sort of language barrier. Suddenly, I was discussing quantum physics with Ghamr, and the art form of martial arts as an outlet for stress with Taim. We bonded over a shared love of writing, something they both inherited from their parents. Both boys were remarkably talented, Ghamr winning first place in a children’s poetry competition in 2009, and Taim winning first prize in a short story competition through Oxford University while living in Dubai after fleeing Syria.

We were laughing, making jibes at one another, and, honestly, it felt like I’d known them for a long time – more than just having met them twice in two months, despite how personal my interviews with them had been.

I remember getting in my car outside the family’s apartment building that day with my recorder and my notebook in hand. As I normally do, I immediately began jotting down notes of things to keep top of mind as I wrote the article later on. When I finished, I put my notebook on the passenger’s seat, turned up the radio, and put my car in drive. And then I stopped. Put the car in park. And I picked up my notebook.

Without a word of a lie, I wrote down the following words as a secondary reminder to myself:

Keep an eye on these boys as in the future – they’re going places.

Sometimes, when your gut or spirit or intuition, whatever it is that tells you the important stuff gives you a pang to take notice… well, sometimes, you do.

This week, we published the announcement that local LCVI student, Taim Saeed, had been selected as a Loran Scholar.

Loran Scholars are considered Canada’s next generation of leaders, and they receive opportunities to explore, develop, and share their talents over four years of undergraduate studies at one of the 25 Loran Scholar partner universities. Each Loran Scholar is awarded an annual stipend of $10,000 and matching tuition waiver, access to $10,000 in funding for summer internships, one-on-one mentorships, and annual retreats and gatherings with their fellow Loran Scholars.

“To better understand of just how outstanding these students – and Taim – are, one only needs to look to the selection process. The 5,194 applicants this year were whittled down to 545 semi-finalists, all of whom were interviewed by more than 400 volunteers. The 88 finalists out of that process were invited to the National Selections on Friday, Jan. 31 and Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. The 36 Loran Scholars selected were interviewed and assessed by up to 12 different people over the course of three months. Taim is the only Loran Scholar representing Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington.”

— Kingstonist article on Taim Saeed being selected as a Loran Scholar.

Sometimes, when your gut, or spirit, or whatever it is that tells you the important stuff gives you a pang to take notice… well, sometimes, it’s just right.

To read all about Taim’s family – all of whom are exceptionally interesting and passionately dedicated members of the Kingston community – read my first article on the Saeed family and the team of local writers that brought them to Kingston here. To find out how they settled in after six months in Canada and Kingston, click here.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on my time with the Saeed family

  • Tori. Thank you for sharing your intimate reflections about Taim and his family. His school community is so proud of his accomplishments. Thank you for sharing his shine with Kingston.

  • Thank you so much Tori for this amazing reflection on our experience as a newcomer family. It is so very honorable to know and read this impression we left in your mind and spirit. We can’t be more gratitude to this community which has been welcoming us with open hands and to the super nice people like you who have been overwhelming us with their super kindness. Jamal and me are so gratitude that we are blessed with such hard working and committed kids, and are hoping they will be able to show the potential of the newcomers and the skills they are bringing to the table of their new home.

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