As we continue to journey through the process of sponsoring a Syrian refugee family, there have been many wonderful moments and unique learning opportunities that our volunteers encounter every day.  We’d like to share some of that learning.

On December 16th, Social Justice Committee members Sharron Kusiar and Kathy Glazier attended an information session that was put on by the Arab Community Centre of Toronto.  It covered Syrian history, demographics, society, gender roles, and how the Arab Community Centre can help sponsoring groups.  The main presenter was a young Syrian man named Mahmoud who explained the centre is a non-sectarian and non-religious, not-for-profit organization with a staff of 25.  They also have over 100 Arabic interpreters that can assist groups in the first two weeks after a family arrives (these immediate first two weeks are critical to help the family settle in and on-site continuous translation support is crucial).  The ACC is preparing a Welcome Package that will be available later this month in Arabic and English.  We will definitely draw on this resource to create a custom package for the family.

We are not yet clear on the temporary housing the family of seven will require when they first arrive.  They may stay with their Toronto Syrian relatives but we’ve also done some research based on resources in the GTA such as a service called, we-host-refugees that matches refugee families with people who can host them for a temporary period of time.  Plus the ACC has useful information on potential neighbourhoods, schools, supermarkets, and halal food.  Mahmoud pointed out it would be helpful if the family settles not more than 30 minutes away from their sponsoring group so that we can get to the family more quickly when assistance is required.

Some interesting facts:

  • The U.N. estimates that more than half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million is in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, 4 million refugees now live outside Syria and at least 8 million are displaced inside the country;
  • Nearly four years after the civil war began, more than 250,000 people have died, more than half of whom are believed to be civilians;
  • More than 75% of Syrian refugees are women and children;
  • Fewer than 1% of Syria’s refugees will ever get a chance to be resettled overseas;
  • 85% literacy
  • 90% Arabs, 10% Kurds
  • 90% Muslim, 10% Christian

In the presentation they explained that in Syrian society extended family, family reputation, and honour are very important.  Upper class women work outside the home and middle class and rural women tend to stay at home.  Conservative women from less educated families do not socialize with men outside the home and marriage occurs at a young age.  Boys and girls are separated at the age of seven.

The Syrian families coming to Canada will have experienced a myriad of difficult circumstances and possibly trauma.  Mahmoud explained there is unfortunately; significant stigma around mental health issues in the Syrian culture (not that different from Canada).  Volunteers who interact with the family, will receive special training from The Jewish Immigrant Aid Services (JIAS) our Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) and will be sensitive to what these people have been through, their specific needs and comfort level with our cultural norms. In other words, the learning will continue throughout this experience for the DJC and for the family.

For more information, download this pamphlet from the Arab Community Centre of Toronto.  Here are some other resources: FAQs from the city of Toronto about refugee family sponsorship; government resources on Caring for Syrian Refugee Children & their Families; and a 2015 report on the mental health of Syrian refugees.

If you’d like to join our growing team of volunteers or donate items, please send an e-mail to  

Thank you for your interest.  This update was provided by the Danforth Jewish Circle Social Justice Committee.

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