One of the first Syrian refugees to settle in Waterloo Region says he’s “very grateful” for everyone who helped bring him to Canada.

Feras Shaheen arrived at Pearson International Airport on Thursday, where he was greeted by Siba Al-Khadour, who brought him into Canada through a private sponsorship.

“I’m really happy to have Feras. I was so excited, I didn’t sleep last night,” she said.

It was a long journey for Shaheen, both in time and distance.

He says that he found himself in a similar situation to many young Syrian men – faced with the choice of leaving the country or ending up in the military.

He sought shelter in Lebanon, and made his way to Egypt for the flight that would bring him to Canada.

“I’m so happy,” he said after arriving in Kitchener.

“It’s a good feeling.”

Shaheen said that he wants to get involved in the community and “do something good” to repay Canada for taking him in.

“The Canadian people maybe think that all the Syrian people are bad, are terrorists, are radicals – but (they) are kind,” he said.

“They love life. They love each other.”

One specific hope Shaheen has is to return to school.

He had been studying mechanical engineering in Damascus, but says that came to an end due to the war.

“It’s not like I don’t want to come back to Syria, or I hate Syria, or anything like that – but our Syrian war, maybe it goes for a long, long (time),” he said.

“I don’t want war. I want peace.”

For Al-Khadour, deciding to sponsor a refugee was an easy choice.

She says taking in people looking to leave Syria is an effective way of combatting ISIS, as it shows Syrians there is an alternative to fighting.

“If we turn our backs … we cannot blame them if they turn to be extremists,” she said.

While Shaheen is glad to be in Canada, his thoughts remain with the rest of his family.

He has a brother currently in Lebanon who, like him, left the country rather than enlist in the military – and who hopes to arrive in Canada later this month – as well as a mother, father and sister in Syria.

“I’m afraid of anything happening bad to them,” he said.

More than 400 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada over the past month.

A flight carrying 163 more privately sponsored refugees was expected to land at Pearson late Thursday.

The majority of them will live in and around Toronto.