The girl at the center of a film about Syria's war is now thriving in Canada

The World
Lyse Doucet reunited with the Sabbagh family in a Toronto park

The BBC’s Lyse Doucet has covered the war in Syria since it began five long years ago. So when happenstance found Doucet in her native Canada, she heard about a picnic being held for resettled refugees from that savage conflict.

The picnic, on Sunday, was in a park in the Leslieville neighborhood of Toronto. Doucet went along with her team, and was doing interviews when a child ran up and asked her name. As soon as she did, a group of children started calling out to her.

Quite by chance, it was a family she had met before, two years ago, amid the horrors of war in an embattled neighborhood of Damascus. The Sabbagh family — mom, dad, three boys and a girl, Daad.

The Sabbaghs were the central characters in a documentary Doucet produced about the war and its human costs.

“Their story is the story of millions of Syrians,” says Doucet. They were homeless and destitute in Damascus, living in a storeroom provided by a shopkeeper. They were mourning the violent death of another child, an infant son, they said was murdered. The father was too ill to work. “They were literally living hand-to-mouth on hand-outs.”

“They now look like young Canadians,” says Doucet.

The 2014 documentary focused on Daad, then 11. All she wanted was to go to school, but that was rarely possible.

“She was having nightmares,” says Doucet. “She talked about how in her dreams, she went back to her old home and saw the ghosts of her friends. She saw people being shot, with their heads cut off. ... She hated the future.”  

But Daad now appears to be thriving. The nightmares have gone. Now she dreams of the normal things that 13-year-olds dream about. “Now she loves everything about her future."

Doucet says it’s extraordinary to see how easily Daad and other refugee kids adapt to their new homes. “Five, six, nine months in Canada, they’re speaking perfect English, with Canadian accents, singing the Canadian anthem, singing the nursery rhymes that we all grew up with ... and very proud to do it.”

Doucet said she had heard rumors the family was in Canada but had no way of contacting them. So it was complete chance that they met. “It was pure serendipity,” said Doucet. 

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