Last March 2017, the Danforth Jewish Circle welcomed the Syrian family of seven we are sponsoring when they arrived at Toronto Pearson International Airport with their suitcases and five kids ranging in age from 1 1/2 to 12. Since then there have been many “firsts” and lots of new learning and great experiences – both for the family and our team of DJC volunteers who have been helping.
That has encompassed a variety of things including: booking and accompanying family members to doctor’s and dental appointments; setting up ESL and job training; getting the kids enrolled in their new schools, summer camp and fall recreation programs; and even connecting the whole family with a special month-long camp for Syrian refugees this past summer. It’s been hectic, surprising, sometimes challenging and also very rewarding. “Google Translate” has been put to the test!
Kathy Glazier, the Project Lead for this endeavour, provides this update on what has been happening since the Fall and into the first winter for the family. We have been fortunate to have a core group of over 10 very dedicated members of the Social Justice Committee who have been acting as leads for various functions, volunteering a considerable amount of their time on an ongoing basis as part of our settlement support for the family. Other committee members and community volunteers have also contributed in significant ways.
Special thanks to Liat Ross and Margot Dawson, who generously agreed to cover for Kathy and Sharron, co-coordinators of our settlement team, while they are away on their winter vacations.
The family’s first winter here has been a big adjustment, especially as it has been so very cold. Salah and Aleefa both take buses to their programs and two of the boys walk to school, so they have been quite exposed to the Canadian winter. Mohammednour is looking forward to his first experience skating with his school.
- The Dad — Salah — completed an ESL and food handling course at Catholic Cross-cultural Services (CCS) and recently obtained his Food Handler Certificate. He’s now interested in taking a more intensive program for newcomers at CultureLink to learn more culinary and hospitality skills. This program includes a full-time 16-week work placement, part of which is paid. Salah is now working to upgrade his English in order to become eligible for this program. He is also looking for part-time restaurant work.
- The Mom — Aleefa — took the same CCS course and has completed her volunteer placement. She graduated from the program on February 1st and will continue with half-time ESL classes to allow her enough time for her household chores. Aleefa wrote her food handler exam in January and may do some catering from home.
- Betty Sharpe and Donna Koffman are retired teachers who have been volunteering with the children in separate weekly sessions to provide extra math and ESL support respectively.
- Aleefa attended parent-teacher meetings in the Fall with support from Diana Chastain and interpreter Rania Emara.
- Shahid (the eleven year-old girl) and Mohammednour (the ten-year old boy) are both attending LEAP programs that help newcomer children catch up to the regular curriculum. Transportation to their different schools is provided by the school board. It’s exciting to see their eagerness to learn and how much they enjoy school.
- All members of the family are becoming much more competent in English and are keen to continue learning.
- Liat and Diana have been communicating with the staff at the four different schools the children attend, facilitating communication between staff and parents, tracking the children’s progress and enlisting extra help where needed.
- Most of the family’s dental care needs, which were considerable, have now been addressed. We are awaiting a decision on our application for subsidized orthodontic work for two of the children.
- Margot Dawson and JoAnne Hunter have been actively supporting the family to address their health and dental needs.
- Good news – any medication the children require is now covered by the Ontario government.
- Deborah Shore inventoried the family’s winter clothing with them in November and ensured they had everything they needed for the cold weather.
- Allen Flaming, our lead for technology and banking, stepped in recently to help Salah and Aleefa steam-clean their carpet.
- Sharron Kusiar and Wendy Gross took the kids to Ripley’s Aquarium on a PA Day in November, which everyone really enjoyed, thanks to free passes obtained by Wendy.
- Salah and Aleefa would like the three older children to participate in some City of Toronto rec programs this spring – soccer for the boys and swimming for Shahid. They are also interested in the kids attending camp for 1-2 weeks in the summer. Amy Steele and Eve-Lynn Stein, will follow up to register the children in these programs and recruit volunteer drivers to support the children’s attendance.
- We’ve received several new monetary donations for the family from DJC members and others. These have been deposited to a separate fund held by the DJC that we will use to purchase items and services needed by the family. Thank you to our generous donors!
- Kathy Glazier, Sharron Kusiar and Liat Ross met with Salah and Aleefa early in January to begin the conversation about our formal sponsorship commitment coming to an end on March 20th, after one year in Canada. The main goal in these last three months will be to help the family move towards financial independence. We have been told that it is quite common for newcomers not to be self-supporting at the end of the first year, regardless of their employment-related skills, as their English proficiency usually takes more time to develop.
- While our basic monthly financial support of the family will be coming to an end, most of our volunteer leads will continue to support the family after March 20. We have some unused funds for extras such as dental care, medical needs and tuition that will continue to be available to the family over the next year. Annie Shore, their settlement worker at JIAS Toronto, will also be available to the family to provide support as needed.
- We are planning a report-back session for the DJC community in the Spring to share our experiences about this very meaningful project.
A trip to Centre Island, Summer 2017.