Carlisle becomes a place of refuge for a fleeing Syrian family

by Anne Lehmann

Carlisle residents Josh and Jennifer Silverstone are quite passionate about making a difference in the lives of others. Last fall, they had an opportuity to live out the motto of Silverstone’s nonprofit organization, “one family, one child at a time.” In September, the Silverstones  received a request from International Institute of New England (IINE) asking if they could sponsor a family from Syria because the original accommodations in Lowell were in need of repairs before the family could move in. This sponsorship of the family was to last for only two weeks.  

The Silverstones immediately opened their home to a family of four, Murai, the father, Fattoum, the mother, Samih, their three-year-old boy and Mohammed, their nine-month-old boy. On October 6, the family traveled from Damascus to Jordan and finally arrived in the U.S. They then arrived in Carlisle to be greeted with open arms. The families soon bonded, and a lot of “firsts” began to happen; a first Thanksgiving feast experience, a first Christmas, Hanukkah, speaking Arabic, enjoying middle eastern cuisine prepared by Fattoum, the observation of mid-day prayers and attending preschool for Samih. 

The contrast between their lives then and now could not be more stark. “Before,” says Murai, Samih “had no friends, at age three he did not speak… at all, he had never spoken a word.” It was apparent he needed to be around children of his own age and have a consistent schedule to create some stability. Jennifer searched for local preschools that had room for a three-year-old. The best match was the Nashoba Valley Preschool and what a perfect match it has been. Samih has become completely connected to the program, teachers and other children. He feels safe. Now, says Murai, “... he is learning and speaking two languages, Arabic and English. He has made friends at school and is a very happy child.” When Silverstone and Samih picked out his backpack for school, “he was beaming with pride and happiness.” 

For Fattoum, a shopping trip to the grocery was an experience. She was amazed at the options available. “Markets here are different but I could find every spice, meat and vegetable needed to cook meals.” With a shy confidence and warm smile, she shared her current dream: to attend a local high school to work on her English skills and then pick up her education in the field of medicine. 

The focus of the conversation quickly returned to the fact that the family feels very grateful. Fattoum noted, “We are thankful to God, thankful to Josh and Jennifer, thankful to the community for their support. These are very, very good people, very nice people.” You could feel the genuine raw gratitude, in essence a living example of what “saving grace” is all about.

Carlisle has shown an outpouring of kindness towards the family, not only in providing them some basic needs but going above and beyond. Murai is a painter by trade and has found work in this field, so a car to transport him to jobs is critical. When a local family generously donated a used Honda, Bill, the owner of Carlisle Auto Body, offered to get the car in good running order. 

The next step in this story would be permanent housing for the family.  Silverstone diligently worked on finding a permanent situation for the family and finally an apartment in Westford became available. Securing the apartment proved to be difficult given the layers of paperwork necessary to rent a house, but once the family’s situation was explained, the landlord acquiesced and the four are in the process of moving to their new home. Murai says stoutly: “We are ready to start our life here in America. Our son, Samih likes his school, I have a job and my wife would like to go to school to learn English.” It is clear that the before and after story is a life changer for this family; perhaps for both families. 

Silverstone noted, “We are in this to win this, we are throwing all sensibility out the window, until this family succeeds at getting their feet on the ground we are with them each step of the way.”  ∆