For six years — 2,190 days — Saira Ahmadi has been waiting for the chance to hold her six siblings after her family was torn apart by the Taliban.
That day finally came this week, when Ahmadi, who lives in the Toronto area, reunited with her five brothers and sister for the first time since 2016 on Canadian soil.
“It was a difficult time for them and for me but I’m very grateful for the people who helped us, who sponsored my siblings,” Ahmadi said.
Ahmadi, 30, arrived in Canada in 2018 and has been pushing to get her siblings safely to Canada with the help of supporters in the Greater Toronto Area.
The family’s saga stretches over two decades and has chapters in India, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan, their homeland. Ahmadi’s mother, father and husband were all killed by the Taliban in separate incidents. After she moved to Canada hoping for a new beginning with her husband, tragedy struck yet again, separating her from her six siblings — the only family she has left behind.
Since then, however, a community has formed around Ahmadi in Canada that’s helped her bring her siblings to Canada. After fundraising, lots of paperwork and co-ordination, she was finally able to sponsor them. They reunited late Wednesday night.
The siblings range in age from 18 to 12 years old: Mursal, Eid Mohammed, Ali, Murtaza, Fahim and Sami.
Family’s life in Afghanistan destroyed
In 2009, their home in Afghanistan was destroyed by a bomb, killing their mother and stepbrother.
Seven years later, Ahmadi married her husband, Ezatullah, an Afghan translator working with the Canadian Forces. The pair were in New Delhi, India, at the time but planned to move to Canada together in 2018. But that didn’t happen after her father-in-law became ill, so Ahmadi made the journey alone.
She arrived in Toronto on March 17, 2018, before her visa would expire. Her husband stayed in Afghanistan to care for his father.
Only a week later, on March 28, Ahmadi received the news that her husband has been killed in a targeted car bombing.
That same year, the family’s village was attacked and 72 people were killed, including Ahmadi’s father and her three stepbrothers. Her siblings escaped to Tajikistan with their stepmother.
Ahmadi was alone when she received the news.
“I became unconscious. I went to the hospital. I spent a night in the hospital,” Ahmadi said.
That trauma persisted, Ahmadi said, and still haunts her nightly.
‘I lost my home. I lost myself’
“I lost my home. I lost myself. I never think how to stand up again, how to continue my life again,” she said. “That was a very horrible time for me.”
In the summer of 2019, Ahmadi met Ruth Cassidy through a mutual friend. Cassidy invited her to spend the weekend at their family cottage in Port Sydney, a neighbourhood in Huntsville, Ont.
Cassidy, who lives in Oakville with her husband, has remained friends with Ahmadi ever since.
“[Ahmadi] shared her story with us and that was a very traumatic time,” Cassidy said. “We all wept together when we heard the story.”
Then the situation took another turn. Last year, Ahmadi’s stepmother, who had been caring for her six siblings in Tajikistan, died after a heart attack. That posed a problem: All of the paperwork to bring the children to Canada had been under her stepmother’s name.
‘Well, let’s see what we can do’
The siblings then had to wait for Mursal to turn 18 so that she could act as a legal guardian to the rest of them.
Cassidy said after hearing about Ahmadi’s siblings, she and her husband said “Well, let’s see what we can do.”
That’s when Cassidy began to search for help in the sponsorship process and started raising funds for the family.
“This is not a one family endeavour. It’s a community,” she said.
While the sponsorship process was ongoing, the siblings were receiving English lessons online from two volunteer tutors.
One of them was Dr. George Saab, a radiologist and volunteer teacher in Owen Sound, Ont. He has been teaching English to two of the teenage siblings online for twice a week for more than a year and sending them funds.
“Each day I was amazed at their enthusiasm to learn and positive attitudes despite all the tragedy they’ve been through,” Saab said.
“My wife and I have loaded up a carload of supplies and I’m excited to finally meet them in person, hopefully this week.”
Ahmadi and her siblings were able to reunite and quarantine together this week after Cassidy and her husband offered to cost them all in their Oakville, Ont., home for two weeks.
Ahmadi says the family still cannot believe they are physically together.
“It was very painful and emotional for me last night when I saw they had nightmares,” she said. “They were crying.”
She said they found an apartment in Toronto they can live in together. Her first priority is to make sure they are healthy and have the supports they need.
“First I want [them] to go to the doctor, to be okay mentally, physically and emotionally. It’s very important to treat it because they’re going through trauma.”
Ahmadi says she herself continues to deal with that trauma to this day but hopes she can help her siblings get through it and have the support they need, now that they’re here.
“I have new hope, a new start, a new light. [We’re] going forward, we have a bright future [with] each other,” she said.
Ahmadi hopes they can all work to help others.
“To be a good citizen, to help, to learn, to dedicate their lives for others, to help others how the people help us, how [they] rescued and supported us.”