Wednesday, 26 June 2019

When ESL classes are not an option: Homeschooling for a newcomer

The importance of learning English for the successful settlement of newcomers can not be overstated. When the first former refugees we sponsored - a Syrian family of eight - arrived in Canada at the end of 2015, enrolling them in ESL classes was one of our top priorities. Most of them are fluent now. For Jamila, a single Eritrean mum with four small children who arrived in November 2018, participating in English classes proved to be a lot more challenging. We have not been able to find subsidized childcare for her two youngest, making it impossible for her to attend formal classes. But we have been extremely lucky to find an amazing volunteer teacher who comes to Jamila's home twice a week. Zeynep is an ESL teacher from Turkey who recently moved to Canada. Here is an account of her experience.


When I heard from a friend that they needed an ESL teacher for a single mother of four from Eritrea, I did not hesitate for a second to volunteer. I was so excited about the idea of joining this group of volunteers that I did not think about the potential hardships of the task.

At that point, it did not occur to me that she and I did not speak the same language, that all the languages she spoke (she speaks her mother tongue, Tigrinya, Arabic and Amharic) had a different alphabet, that actually being at home meant she was not only a ‘learner’ but a mother even though there was always a volunteer to keep the kids entertained. Nevertheless, we both started with great enthusiasm and motivation.

Her at-home-custom-made ESL course can be defined as functional, i.e. focused around language that we use to perform various functions, such as introducing oneself, meeting new people, making requests, giving advice, complaining, agreeing, asking permission. Although there is a core curriculum, the course is somewhat flexible to meet her immediate needs. For instance, once one of the kids had a fever, and we immediately started talking about expressing health problems, such as have a stomachache, have a headache, have the flu, and incorporated the vocabulary for internal organs. On another occasion, she was feeling blue, so we worked on how to express feelings and mood.


She is good at comprehending conversation at her level, initial basic ability (in CLB1); however, production is slightly delayed. She needs to study, but her other responsibilities do not allow her to do any homework. For this very reason, we write the new language items on colourful paper and post on her walls to accommodate some peripheral learning.

As for vocabulary, which is an essential component of the course, her progress is better. It is easier to learn and use language at the word level, since she gets input from everywhere, i.e. supermarket labels, food labels, post signs. She even utters some words when she is speaking with her kids in their own language. For example, she may say “.……. garbage” when asking the kids to put some things in the garbage bin.

Although she appreciates the kind of support she gets for English, she is looking forward to going to “school” for ESL. In my opinion, she will benefit from being in a group of learners from various language backgrounds. There will be more opportunities to repeat, recycle, revise and use the language in the classroom situation.

Our experience may shed some light on the ESL aspect of the refugee/newcomer matters. An institutional language learning experience is necessary. However, for the newcomer to be able to use the newly-acquired language real people, i.e. people whom they encounter outside of the class, may give some support. It will be highly helpful if the third parties, i.e. volunteers, social workers, public health nurses, have some training on how to address ESL learners it will enhance their learning process.

Here are some tips for sponsors and volunteers to support the learning process of the newcomer:
  • It is important that we speak slowly, allowing time for them to process.
  • Using body language will support the oral communication in a visual way. Acting is always a life saver if necessary. 
  • Use of realia, i.e., real objects will also assist communication. You can also use any object, such as clothes, utensils, furniture, as a learning tool. 
As for resources, the internet is full of ESL activities, you can check for any exercises, games, rhymes. Jazz Chants (by Carolyn Graham), which you can find on YouTube are helpful in practicing rhythm and intonation as well as pronunciation.

Children’s books are also a good resource. They can be utilized for reading comprehension, practicing description, asking questions, and pronunciation.

By Zeynep Iskenderoglu Onel 

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

It takes a village

Through the contact form on our blog, we recently received an email with the following question: “How do you organize yourselves so that the complex work of settlement and support can happen for multiple families without burning out your team of volunteers?”

It's an important question, and not an easy one to answer. Each of the three families that we have sponsored so far arrived after the first year of settlement of the previous family was over, so that made things easier. But having enough volunteers to carry out all the tasks needed is no easy feat, especially for the latest arrival, a single mum with four children, who needs a lot more support than the previous families.

Being a group made up entirely of volunteers can be a challenge. It means that people are not always available, and not always reliable. Everyone has busy lives outside the Ripple group – work and family obligations, holiday trips and so on. A number of people who joined the group four years ago have since dropped out, while others who are nominally members only sporadically chip in. Community sponsorship groups such as ours are vulnerable to this kind of fluctuation and unpredictability – unlike churches, for example, which can pull in volunteers from a wider congregation.

Newcomer and group members' kids mingle at an Easter party
We have learned a number of lessons of how to make it work, despite all the challenges.
  • For the latest settlement, we actively recruited new volunteers who have daytime availability (since many of the ‘old’ members have full-time jobs). All of them are absolutely amazing, always ready to step in when help is needed. We even found a wonderful volunteer ESL teacher who is teaching the mum at home, since she cannot attend formal classes due to a lack of access to childcare.
  • Being a volunteer in our group is ideal for people who want to be flexible and who have only a limited amount of time. Except for the English lessons, the need for support varies from week to week and people can volunteer whenever it fits into their schedule. 
  • Several of our new volunteers live close to the family’s home, which makes volunteering easier, especially if support is needed at short notice. 
  • Online tools are our friend when it comes to organizing ourselves – especially a shared google calendar and a messenger group where we post updates and ask for support, as well as google docs to share information. 
  • We have had the same chair and several key members since the beginning, which allows for continuity. 
  • Regular meetings with all volunteers, as well as regular message exchanges, help keep up a sense of community and being 'on the same page'.
  • Last but not least: We all agree that supporting this beautiful famil is extremely rewarding! We genuinely enjoy hanging out with them and probably get as much out of the experience as the family does. 





                                                                                                                         By Claudia Blume








Wednesday, 3 April 2019

The Ripple Effect

A living room meeting leads to a BVOR sponsorship group 


Yosief Araya, Director of the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program (RSTP), remembers the first time he heard from what later became the Ripple Refugee Program, a Toronto group that has since sponsored 17 individuals, including two BVOR families. 




“I got a call from Andrew Fitzgerald inviting me to speak about refugee sponsorship to some of his friends and neighbours,” Yosief says. He has spoken about refugee sponsorship to groups across Canada, but “it was the first time I’ve ever been invited to speak in someone’s living room.” That was early in 2015, before the Canadian government committed to bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada. 

Andrew’s motivation was straightforward, “These are global problems. I can do something to relieve the sense of despair I have … I can help at least one family.” Aware that the group’s help might be “just a drop in the ocean,” members focus instead on the ripple effect of that drop, hence their name. The Ripple Refugee Project helps others learn from its sponsorship experience through a blog, which includes everything from articles on the sponsorship experience to recipes and reflections from the newcomers
Members frequently speak with the media to raise the public’s awareness of the continuing need for refugee sponsors. Ripple Refugee Project’s first BVOR family of eight arrived in late 2015. In December 2018 their second BVOR case arrived, a young Eritrean family of five led by a single mother. Members of this family became social media stars when a video of the children enjoying snow for the first time went viral. UNHCR profiled the family and Ripple Refugee Project’s sponsorship activities in a video.(see video) Ripple Refugee Project now focuses on sponsoring BVOR cases with the help of its partner, Rosedale United Church. As frequent sponsors, they appreciate the faster arrival times and lower costs of BVOR sponsorship. 

If you know a group of people considering refugee sponsorship through the BVOR program, RSTP will be happy to talk with them. Please e-mail them at bvor@rstp.ca.

Yosief Araya's article was first published in the RTSP's BVOR newsletter (February 2019)

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Refugees in need of sponsors

Two of the three families we helped settle in Canada, including the Eritrean family of five who arrived in November 2018, have come here through the BVOR program.

The program is designed to resettle refugees identified by the UNHCR that have been referred to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).The BVOR program is a “blended” program because it is a cost-sharing arrangement whereby the Canadian government and private sponsors contribute financially to support the refugees. Private sponsors are also responsible for providing settlement support to the refugees for 12 months.

Our group decided for a number of reasons to focus on BVOR-refugees rather than on named-case sponsorships. Although bringing in refugees through this program is fast, and doesn't require to raise a lot of money, there appears to be a shortage of community sponsorship groups who are putting up their hands for BVOR refugees.

The Canada office of the UNHCR produced a video, featuring the Ripple Refugee group, to encourage other Canadians to welcome refugees through this unique program. If we can do it, so can you!

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

New Year's Visit from Minister Hussen

It was a New Year’s Day that our Eritrean newcomer family and we, their sponsors, will not soon forget. January 1, 2019 began with a visit of very special guests: Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and Mohamad Fakih, Lebanese-Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist.


Minister Hussen first reached out to us after seeing the adorable video of the two eldest children of the family enjoying their first snowfall in Canada that our group member Rebecca had posted on social media in November. The video went completely viral within hours, was picked up by media around the world and even retweeted by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Minister Hussen (right) and Mohamad Fakih interact with the family
The Minister’s visit to the family’s new apartment coincided with the birthdays of mum Jamila and her two eldest children, who turned eight and six. January 1 is a birthday they share with many newcomers to Canada who used to be refugees. Many people who flee their homes and don’t have birth certificates get assigned this date of birth when they register as refugees, and carry it over when they fill out forms in their new home country.

Minister Hussen not only brought lots of gifts for the family and helped us sing Happy Birthday, he also discussed the benefits of Canada’s private sponsorship model.  Together with the UNHCR and other partners, the government launched the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative two years ago and has successfully promoted the community-based sponsorship model to a number of countries around the world, such as the UK, Germany and New Zealand. The minister said that we need to normalize the support for refugees. He urged all Canadians to amplify positive stories about immigrants and the enormous benefits Canada is reaping because of the contributions of the many newcomers who are coming here each year.

A case in point were our two visitors. Minister Hussen arrived in Canada as a teenage refugee from Somalia. Mohamad Fakih founded Paramount Fine Foods, a chain that now has 80 restaurants around North America and has more than 150 Syrian refugees among its employees, only a few years after arriving almost penniless from Lebanon. He is now partnering with the UNHCR and is talking to other businesses in Canada about hiring and sponsoring refugees.

It seems hard to believe that less than two months ago, Jamila and her four small children were living in a refugee camp in Sudan, unsure about their future. She did not know that a sponsorship group was waiting for her at the airport in Toronto and expected in fact to be settled in yet another refugee camp (the information sharing with privately sponsored refugees prior to their arrival is something that definitely needs to improve!). 



Today, the family experienced the kind-heartedness and openness not just of ordinary Canadian citizens but even a high-level government official. It is hard to think of a better way to start a new year, and indeed, a new life.









By Claudia Blume

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Please help us bring an Eritrean family of five to Canada

We need your help! The Ripple Refugee group is sponsoring a young mother and her four children, all under 8 years old. The family was forced to flee their home in Eritrea and is currently residing under precarious circumstances in neighboring Sudan. Eritrea is recognized as having one of the most repressive regimes in the world. 


The UNHCR and the Canadian Government have reviewed and approved the family’s application for refugee status and they could arrive in Toronto before this coming Christmas. Our group has chosen to support this young mum and her small children because they are very vulnerable and because we think we can make a huge impact on their lives.

But we need to raise $25,000 to make this happen. Any donations over and above this amount will be used for refugee sponsorships our group will undertake in 2019.

Tax-receipted donations can be made on-line via the Rosedale United Church’s (our sponsorship agreement holder) donation page at Canada Helps (please click here). Please be sure to indicate in the box marked “Include a message for this charity” that the donation is for: RUC-25 Ripple Refugee Project.


Eritreans seeking safe passage to Sudan (credit: UNHCR)
Because of the generous support of our donors we have been able to sponsor and settle two Syrian families and one individual over the last three years, totalling twelve people. You can read about their incredible stories and the journey that our group of concerned citizens from Toronto has been on in our blog.

For more information about donating to our group, please click here

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Arrivals

I travel a lot for work. When the flight home is over, and after the final exhaustion of body and soul by customs lines and luggage carousels, I used to race through the automatic doors to the international arrivals hall and grab a cab or Uber for the last twenty-one kilometres of the trip.


But for the past two years, though still always heart-hungry to get home quickly and see my family, I now stop and look around when I’m through those doors and free to leave.

I look for signs. Literally. “Welcome xxx Family to Canada!” they say, and, usually "مرحبا بكم في كندا." Sometimes "bienvenue au Canada”. If you know the acronyms and lingo, no small talk with the signs’ bearers is needed. GAR, JAS, or BVOR*? Have you already spoken with the family? How large is it? What country are they from? Do they speak English? How do they feel about coming to Canada? Do you know any of what they’ve been through? Best wishes for you all.



On June 6, I was there, in the international arrivals hall, with a sign. For the third time. I’d joined my friend Sawsan Awad and her family to greet her brother, Mahmoud, the latest human being sponsored by  Ripple and it was at this exact spot in Terminal 1, in December 2015, where we had first met Sawsan, her husband Mohamad, and the rest of the Abdallah family in person.

Family reunification is important for the wellbeing of newcomers, and was something that Sawsan had said she wanted and needed - to restore links with some of her family after being separated by war. And so we did not hesitate to sponsor her youngest brother, who was still stuck in Lebanon.











It can take four hours for newcomers to walk through those automatic doors, but I always want to be there, just on the other side, even before the plane lands and for the whole time it takes them to get processed. With my sign, red and white carnations, and Canadian flag. I will not miss the moment the arrivals doors open and they come through, a moment that represents joy, journey, meaning, grace, relief, grief, sadness, happiness, weariness, survival, openness, philanthropy, resistance, resilience, family, citizenry, past, present, and future. I’m unapologetic about this. Such human moments generate more humanity. It’s a ripple effect.


Two months of settling into his new life in Toronto, Mahmoud told me, “Arriving in Canada is one of the best things that ever happened to me. Because I speak English, I’ve faced nothing like the challenges faced by many newcomers. But settling in a new community takes effort. I’m working hard and trying to get involved in the community. I still miss my family and friends back in Syria and Lebanon. l had no choice but to leave. After so many years, I finally reunited with my sister and her family. She has three beautiful daughters, and the two older ones, Aya and Reemas, are very happy and excited to have another uncle around. My sister Sawsan was overwhelmed with joy, and burst into tears when she was at the airport to pick me up.”

In a couple of weeks I’ll be returning from another business trip and walking through that spot where we first met Sawsan and her family, then Amr, Rasha, and baby Kareem, the second Syrian family our group had sponsored, and now, Mahmoud. And I’ll look for more signs, think with gratitude of those who’ve arrived, and the many more we must bring through those automatic doors at arrivals.

*Government Assisted Refugees, Joint Assistance Sponsorship, Blended Visa Office-Referred

By Rebecca Davies