Dema Dahouk: Syrian Refugee and World Champion
Against all odds, Dema Dahouk, a para-athlete, became an international table tennis champion. She arrived in Canada in 2016 as part of the government’s commitment to resettle Syrian refugees in Canada.
Dema’s dream is to become Canada’s Paralympic Champion.
The Syrian Canadian Foundation wants to help make Dema’s dream come true. We will sponsor Dema to participate in local and international tournaments, starting with the September 2018 Canadian Para Championships in Markham, Ontario. The money raised will go towards Dema’s training, equipment and travel costs.
At the age of 3, a medical error after a horrible car accident, rendered Dema paraplegic. In her small hometown in Syria, disability meant life was over. Even her family gave up on her.
“My family didn’t get even get me a wheelchair and they told me I couldn’t do anything,” Dema says.
Dema sank into despair. In her teen years, she contemplated suicide. But at the age of 15, Dema found a gym for disabled athletes and began to lift weights. She built strength, gained confidence and found hope for a better future.
At the gym, Dema found a coach that helped her become an international table tennis champion. She won one tournament after the other.
At the gym, Dema also found another treasure: the love of her life, Osama Joha, a para-athlete, basketball and weightlifting champion.
“He was my number one support,” Dema says. “He encouraged and pushed me past many milestones.”
War broke out in Syria, and in 2015, Dema and Osama fled to Turkey. There, they met victims of war, with limbs blown off, who were left in dire conditions, without proper accommodations or services. Dema and Osama volunteered their time and expertise. They taught them how to function with disability and they began a fitness and wellness program hoping to pull the refugees out of physical and psychological distress.
Today, Dema and Osama live in Hamilton, Ontario with their two boys. Dema wants to represent Canada in international tournaments. She wants to win medals for the country that gave her family a safe haven. Despite the many challenges, and her inability to train while fleeing from war and living in difficult circumstances in Turkey, Dema never gave up on her dream. As soon as she arrived in Canada, she set her mind to getting back on her winning track.
In July 2017, Dema competed in her first tournament in Canada: the Butterfly Canadian Championships (a national table tennis tournament). She scored a gold in the doubles and a silver in singles!
Beyond pursuing her own ambitions in sports, Dema’s dream is to help others who face similar challenges. In her current hometown of Hamilton, Dema met dozens of people with disabilities that became inspired by her story. Dema wants to start a fitness and wellness program for them in Hamilton to help bring hope and confidence into their lives.