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Nadim Ado’s painting studio is filled with evocative paintings and photos, many of which capture the pain and sadness of war.

“Even in sadness, you can see beauty,” said Nadim, who fled Syria and escaped to Kurdistan in Iraq with his wife, Delshan, and his two children, Hero and Mehyar.

In December 2016, the Yazidi artist and his family came to Canada as government-sponsored refugees.

On top of experiencing the horrors of war, Nadim found settling into his new home in Winnipeg extremely stressful.

Fortunately, Nadim was contacted by Auday Ab Redah, an Arabic-speaking Neighbourhood Immigrant Settlement Worker (NISW) at Elmwood Community Resource Centre (ECRC), a United Way Winnipeg donor-supported family resource centre.

“When I first got here, I was very upset,” Nadim said, as translated by Auday. “I didn’t know any English, it was very cold, and I was a stranger in this country.”

As part of the family resource centre’s Newcomer Settlement Program, NISWs provide support to immigrant and refugee newcomers who live in the Elmwood community, connecting them with programs and services to ease their transition, such as language classes, employment programs, housing agencies, and health services.

After getting to know Nadim, Auday realized that what Nadim really needed was a chance to reconnect with his art, which he said brought him peace. Nadim was a well-known artist in Syria, and when he fled, all his paintings and materials were left behind. Without his paintings or the chance to paint, Nadim did not feel at peace.

“Creative comes from the freedom. If you don’t feel free, you can’t give any art.”

Auday and the staff at ECRC found some space in the centre for Nadim to paint, and supplied him with some materials. Auday also took Nadim to art galleries and introduced him to other artists. Feeling safe and free in his new city, with a place and space to create his art, and meeting other artists, Nadim felt more like himself again.

“Creative comes from the freedom. If you don’t feel free, you can’t give any art.” The centre supported me and gave me a place to work,” said Nadim. “And meeting Auday was like finding the key to opening the door to my art.”

Nadim enrolled in English classes at the Adult EAL program of Winnipeg School Division. His class, teacher and principal have been extremely encouraging at school, and also attended one of his art shows. It meant a great deal to Nadim.

“I feel like I’m part of the community,” said Nadim.

Delshan is working full time as an Educational Assistant with the Adult EAL program, and the family has rented a house in Elmwood. Nadim has turned the basement into his painting studio.

His goal is to work full time as an artist. He is currently looking for a sponsor for a large project that will show Winnipeg through the eyes of a Syrian artist.

“I made my life as an artist in Syria, but now I have to start again to build my name,” he said. “I want to sell my art and be an active person. I want to pay my taxes, not be dependent on the government.”

Nadim is committed to not looking back at what happened but only looking forward.

“I’m always giving advice to other Syrians. I tell them ‘don’t think about what you left, but start a new life here,” Nadim said. “I’m so thankful to Canada for welcoming us, and I’m filled with hope for my children who can stay here forever.”

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