Young Syrian crafts wooden birds in Harvey Station

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Young Syrian crafts wooden birds in Harvey Station

Jomaa Al Tarmo is a quiet presence in the Harvey Station wood-carving workshop where he spends his Saturdays.

Frowning with concentration, the 16-year-old Syrian newcomer to Canada bends over a small, wooden chickadee, cutting fine lines into the carving that will become become the bird's feathers.

When his teacher, retired carver Gord Willett, gives advice, Jomaa smiles and nods but doesn't say much in return. He's shy and is still learning the English language, Willett says.

But while Jomaa is not much of a talker, he's passionate about his craft.  

He took to wood carving "like a duck to water," says Willett. "He's a good worker. He's a great student."

More birds on the way

Jomaa took up carving after helping Willett shovel his driveway. The young man visited the workshop and when he saw the birds Willett had carved, he wanted to try it for himself.

The first sculpture the young Syrian created was also a black-capped chickadee, official bird of New Brunswick. He gave the carving to his mother.

Jomaa has since received orders from other people to make bird and wants to try his hand at carving a blue jay, he says.

"I like it," he says, adding that his teacher is "very good" and that he plans to work on his carvings all summer.

Crafty family

Willett says the young man never worked with wood before but the talent for crafting things runs in his family. 

Jomaa's father owned a metal workshop in a town near Aleppo, Syria, until both the shop and the family home were lost in a bombing when the civil war started in 2011.

Jomaa and his family fled to Turkey, then Lebanon, where they lived for four years before landing in Canada eight months ago. They've now settled well into their new community, says Willett, who was part of the group that sponsored the family's move to Harvey Station.

Jomaa's mother has joined a quilting group, and his father is working again, Willett says. The couple's sons go to school and are active in sports. Jomaa, who is a good math student, wants to go to university and become an accountant.

"He wants to contribute, the whole family wants to contribute," Willett says. "So I have no worry about Jomaa. Jomaa will be a success."