Syrian refugee family 417, six months later

Maclean’s - From a lonely existence as refugees to joy and community in Peterborough.

In Peterborough, Ontario - home to a few thousand of those YouTube clicks, at the very least—a 13-year-old girl is dancing in her living room, mimicking the moves from the video. Her name is Ansam Al-Debaijel, and she’s a few days away from finishing Grade 7. “Now watch me whip!” she sings, bobbing up and down in dark-blue jeans and a grey hijab. “Now watch me nae nae!” Her curly-haired little sister, nine-year-old Dalya, follows along beside her.

“Sometimes I still feel like it’s a dream,” she says.

It’s hard to blame her. Six months ago, this family of Syrian refugees—a single mother and her three kids—was holed up in a tiny, squalid apartment in Lebanon, their latest stop after years on the run (first from their home city of Homs, obliterated by Syria’s civil war, then from Islamic State-controlled territory in the north). After crossing into Lebanon in 2014, they survived largely on the generosity of friends and relatives. If the children ate a meal, it was a good day.