Fleeing Syria: BCIT alum Layla Khdir overcomes all odds to achieve dreams

Warning: This story contains depictions and discussions of war, which may be distressing for some readers. For free, 24/7 confidential support, call the BC Mental Health Support Line at 310-6789 (no area code needed).

At six years old, aspiring journalist and future alumna Layla Khdir was performing nightly news shows to her mirror in her home in Aleppo, Syria, where she lived with her two younger sisters and mother.

In 2011, when the Syrian war began, Layla says that her dream of becoming a journalist faded.

“Once the war started, the only thing that concerned me was survival,” shares Layla, who was only 12 years old at the time.

As the war escalated, Layla recalls ongoing explosions in her neighbourhood, putting her family in constant danger and injuring her little sister, who had to endure stitches without any pain relief.

“I remember looking through my window at an airplane bombing the buildings next to us,” says Layla. “I accepted that I was going to die.”

To protect her family, Layla’s mother fled with her three children to Cairo, Egypt, before the airports were shut down shortly afterward.

Navigating life as a refugee

With no money, no support network, and a new culture to navigate, Layla says that life in Egypt was incredibly hard.

“My mom worked all day, selling food to pay for our education,” shares Layla, who studied Broadcasting and English in Cairo, earning perfect marks and eventually a scholarship.

Despite the turmoil, Layla says that wanting to make her mother proud was her motivation to keep going.

Unfortunately, only a couple of years into her new life, Layla’s mother was diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer. Without access to healthcare services, which were denied to refugees, the family needed to relocate again.

Through dedication and persistence, Layla’s mother advocated to the UNHCR to have their family moved and was eventually successful.

In 2019, Layla received the news that her family would be welcomed into Canada.

Starting over again in Canada: New obstacles and opportunities at BCIT

Only three days after landing in Vancouver, BC in May 2019, Layla says that she had already bookmarked BCIT as a potential school where she could upgrade her studies. She was impressed by the hands-on learning style and the Burnaby Campus.

Layla applied to the BCIT Broadcast and Online Journalism program after ambitiously completing three levels of English in only nine months at Vancouver Community College.

She was granted some well-deserved luck and received the last spot in the program, starting in September 2020.

However, as a student, Layla was faced with new and seemingly insurmountable challenges.

On top of adjusting to a new country, language, and student life during a pandemic, she was also caring for her mother, whose cancer was spreading rapidly to her brain.

Adding to her hardships, Layla was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2021. This required multiple hospitalizations and an extensive treatment protocol, which she continues today.

Demonstrating outstanding perseverance, Layla graduated with distinction in 2022. She received various scholarships and awards during her studies, including the Michael Kenneth Thurston Hight Flight award through the BCIT Foundation.

Layla’s mother sadly passed away just 40 days before graduation. She says that one of the last things her mom told her was that she was proud of her.

The inspiring alumna credits caring instructors and generous donors for getting her through: “I wouldn’t have been able to continue my studies without the support I received. I am so thankful.”

From volunteering for the Immigrant Services Society of BC to pitching stories on marginalized communities, Layla gives back with her whole heart, using her lived experience to help other refugees.

Inspired to help students realize their dreams? Learn how you can make a difference.

Journalism dreams come true: Layla lands new role

Layla is excited to start her new role as a producer at 630 CHED Edmonton (Global News Radio) after working for CKNW since graduation.

The alumna says that she’s grateful to be a BCIT grad for the connections and opportunities she received, including internships with CTV, CBC, and Global BC. She keeps in touch with her instructors who supported her while she overcame hurdles no student should ever face.

Layla offers encouragement for aspiring journalists who share English as a second language: “I’ve been on air so many times with my broken English, and no one cared. All I got was support.”

“Stay open. Follow the opportunity that’s in front of you,” Layla says, adding that she understands these are uncertain times, but that there will always be a need for journalism.

Focused on her dream to be a TV journalist covering stories in the Middle East, Layla continues to inspire others through her meaningful work and remarkable resilience.

“I’m so happy. I’m just grateful for the little things in life,” beams Layla.

Learn more about the BCIT School of Business and Media.

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