Syrian refugee Maria Shalash is looking forward to spending her first Canada Day

The London Press - Maria Shalash is a typical London teen. She attends church on Sunday, drinks black coffee from Tim Hortons and tutors her siblings in high school. What sets Shalash apart from other 19-year-olds is her eagerness to learn Canada’s national anthem by Friday.

“I want to be Canadian,” she said. “I want to learn the national anthem.”

After losing her father to cancer in the midst of the deadly war in Syria that has displaced more than 11 million people since 2011, Shalash left Damascus in the fall of 2015 with her mother Rima and two younger siblings.

Months later, the mourning family reunited with loved ones in London after they were sponsored by Byron United Church that had also sponsored Rima’s younger twin sisters Rasha and Rihab a year prior.

Maria Shalash’s family is among 1,000 Syrian refugees who have poured into London since Canada began settling more than 27,000 refugees last December. London’s refugee intake is third highest among Ontario cities.