HALIFAX — The father of seven was supposed to start his third week of English classes Tuesday morning.
But there would be no English class held at the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) office on Joseph Howe Drive in Halifax. That morning, the young Syrian man who arrived in Halifax this past summer with his family and full of hope, lay clinging to life inside a Halifax hospital room.
A fire that ripped through Ebraheim Barho’s Quartz Drive, Spryfield home early Tuesday morning had claimed the lives of his seven children, ages four months old to 15.
A quiet grief enveloped the ISANS office, usually a beehive of activity with newly landed immigrant and refugee families coming and going.
“We had to cancel our English class this morning because we’re all so sad,” said one employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “He wanted more for his family. They came here as a sponsored refugee family.”
Barho’s English teacher, who appeared visibly shaken and also spoke anonymously, said the man had been a good student and always had a smile on his face.
His wife, Kawthar Barho, is also being treated at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre with non-life threatening injuries. Fellow members of Nova Scotia’s Arab and Muslim communities streamed into the hospital throughout the day offering support.
Among them was an Egyptian-born man now living in Halifax. The man, who provided only his first name Mohamed, said it was the least he could do.
“I didn’t know the family but I wanted to come and show my support,” he said, while standing in the hospital’s main lobby. “It’s just so horrifying and we are very close community.”
He said he was among about 30 supporters who gathered near the parents’ hospital rooms and was told by a nurse that the man was awaiting surgery and had a slim chance of surviving.
He insists he speaks for many of the couple’s supporters wanting answers to lingering questions about what caused the deadly fire and why it spread so quickly.
“How could a newly built house be burned so quickly, was there an alarm in the home? Seven children died and this is such a huge tragedy. It raises a lot of questions.”
Those questions have yet to be answered and few official details are being released about the deadly incident. Halifax Regional Police and Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency held a joint news conference Tuesday afternoon saying they are in the early stages of their investigations and did not comment on the cause and circumstances of the fire.
Ummah Masjid And Community Center in Halifax issued a statement Tuesday afternoon on its Facebook page urging people to pray for the family: “for the father to survive, for the wife to be OK soon, for these little kids to Rest in Peace.”
The statement also included the names and ages of the deceased family members, including four-month-old Abdullah. The other names of the children are Rana, 3; Hala, 4; Ghala, 8; Mohammed, 10; Rola, 12 and Ahmed, 15.
The statement also says a funeral will be held at the Ummah Mosque after the bodies are released by the medical examiner. In the meantime, the centre has launched a GoFundMe campaign to support the family
The campaign is aiming to raise $100,000. As of Tuesday evening, it had garnered more than $80,000 in donations.
Ibrahim Manna, a spokesman for the mosque, said that the parents had attempted to rescue their children.
“They had no close family members here and the woman loses her children and her husband is in critical condition. Obviously they need as much support as they can get and we are trying to provide it.”
Hazem Fakhra met Barho last month and went to the hospital Tuesday morning to check on him and his wife.
“The father is still alive but in bad condition,” said Fakhra after leaving the hospital at about 12:30 p.m.
“I speak with his wife, but she is very out of her mind from losing all her kids,” said Fakhra. “She’s in big shock.”
Mohamed Masalmeh knew of the family through the Syrian community.
“A mom and dad and seven kids. They’re a young family,” Masalmeh said, adding the family moved to Nova Scotia about a year and a half ago.
They were planning to move to a bigger house toward Elmsdale at the end of the month, said Fakhra.
According to an article from October 2017 in the Enfield Weekly Press, the Barho family was sponsored by the Hants East Assisting Refugee Team and arrived in Nova Scotia on Sept. 29 of that year.
The family, who later moved to Halifax, said shortly after setting foot in their new country that they felt welcome here.
“We couldn’t imagine how good it is,” the family’s mother told the Weekly Press through a translator. “We feel like we’re at home already.”
“We’re very thrilled to be here in Canada,” she said. “Happiness.”
Rana Zaman and the HEART Society are planning to launch another online fundraiser.
Zaman, an HRM and provincial volunteer award winner, said members of the community were contacting her and looking to help the family. She was put in touch with the sponsor group to help guide people who want to donate.
“In the middle of the night, for a fire to take away everything from you that a time of war you managed to escape from,” Zaman said, trailing off.
“What kind of dollar figure do you put on the loss that this person has suffered?” she asked.