Tuesday, 29 December 2015

A healthy beginning

We are in the fortunate position of having a strong medical contingent in our group - four physicians and two nurses! 

They spent a lot of time researching health care options and have set up many medical and dental appointments for the family after their arrival. Special arrangements were made for Oais, the mobility-challenged son of the Abdallahs, such as the acquisition of a special bed and a wheelchair. 

Our group member Nancy Graham, a nurse with Toronto Public Health, has put together an information sheet about health-related matters that will hopefully be as useful to other sponsorship groups as it was for us - please click here.

At Service Ontario registering for Ontario Health Insurance (OHIP)

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Christmas spirit is alive this year...

The Abdallah family has been in Toronto for two weeks now, and it's been a complete whirlwind of activities for them and many of our group members who took turns taking family members to various appointments around town. It's incredible how much has been achieved in just 14 days. Reemas and Aya have already spent a week in grade 2 and senior kindergarten in their local school and all adults are enrolled in English classes that will start at the beginning of January. 

Major health check ups and some dental appointments have been done, meetings with settlement workers have taken place, bank accounts have been opened, most necessary documents have been obtained and a meeting with immigration officials been completed. 

It has been a steep learning curve for us, and certainly at times been quite overwhelming for the family. Now it's time to take a break over Christmas and hopefully have more time for fun activities. 

We are very honored that the Abdallahs are calling us their (very big!) Canadian family. A highlight for all of us was a big Christmas party with the family on Sunday to which we also invited our incredibly generous donors, without who we would not have been able to settle the family in Canada. Many thanks to everyone, and have a wonderful Christmas! 

To view an album with more photos on our facebook page, please click on this link 

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Why we share our experience with the public

Our sponsorship group continues to get a quite a bit of media attention, possibly because the family we are sponsoring arrived a few days before most of the other Syrian newcomers who are coming to Canada this week.

One of the reasons we have accepted to do so many interviews is that from the start, we wanted to be advocates and encourage others to get involved. We also feel it is important to put a human face on the overall refugee issue so that people move beyond the numbers.

Our group's chair Andrew FitzGerald talked to the CBC News Network today about our group's experience with the sponsorship process.

He was also a guest on the CBC's Power and Politics last night, following a discussion of MPs in Ottawa about the refugee settlement program. 

The CBC posted a very nice video of Anas' memorable first week end in Canada on their website, which he spent at the cottage of his temporary hosts Lisa and John.

And a photo of the Abdallah family featured prominently in the online version of a wonderful Toronto Star editorial welcoming newcomers from Syria into Canada. 

Monday, 7 December 2015

The whole Abdallah family is finally in Toronto!

Today was the day we have been waiting for so long! After a sleepless night, a very tense and excited Anas went with 9 of our group members to Pearson Airport, where the rest of the family landed early in the morning on a plane from Beirut, via Cairo. 

Everything went smoothly, and we were relieved that Oais' scooter arrived in one piece. Seeing the Abdallahs was like meeting old friends  - partly because we had already been in touch via social media for 10 days - and there were smiles, hugs and a flurry of Arabic and English greetings all around. Anas' incredibly cute nieces Aya and Reemas kept on shouting 'I love you' and charmed all of us. We all felt quite emotional and teary-eyed. 

The family members are now in their newly furnished apartments to take a rest and start the first day of their new lives in Canada. After losing everything in Syria and living in dire conditions in Lebanon as refugees for several years, they will finally live in a safe place they can call their own. The family's life has been changed forever - but so have our lives, in more ways than we could have imagined. The arrival is not the end of the journey, it's a beginning. 

To see more photos of the family's arrival, please click on this link

The emotional reunion of the family was captured by a camera team of the CBC's The National

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Everything is ready for the family's arrival

Saturday was moving day! Several group members and a few student volunteers from Ryerson University moved furniture and other donated items from different places in Toronto to the two apartments we found for the family. Everything went smoothly and the two places look terrific. Thanks so much to our very generous in-kind donors, who only gave us high-quality items, and to the volunteers who helped out! The strong community support continues to amaze us.
To view more photos of the move and the apartments, please click on this link

And another ripple effect: Julie Dabrusin, the liberal MP for the Toronto-Danforth riding, met with Anas to learn about his and our sponsorship group's experiences. She wants to talk to other groups too and plans to convey their comments and suggestions to the federal government.  

Julie mentioned our group when she addressed the House of Commons.

Friday, 4 December 2015

"I love the humanity here", Anas tells the CBC's The Current

After just ten days in Canada, Anas was already interviewed by Piya Chattopadhyay on the CBC's The Current!  Our group member Ammar translated. It was nice to hear all the positive things he had to say about his first few days in Canada, about how welcoming everyone has been or, as he calls it, the 'humanity' he has witnessed in the country - a far cry from the harrowing experiences the family has gone through since they were forced to flee their home in Syria more than two years ago.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

The first family member arrived in Canada!

What an exciting week – the first member of the family of eight we are sponsoring, 30-year old Anas, arrived in Toronto a few days ago, tired and very excited at the same time. He did not know what to expect when the plane landed at Pearson Airport – the family did not receive our welcome letter and was not informed that they are being sponsored by private people. The rest of the family is scheduled to leave Beirut in about a week.

Our group’s chair, Andrew, talked to the CBC’sThe Current about Anas’ first few days in Canada:

Various group members spent time with Anas this week to brief him about the next steps and how we will support the family, to show him the apartments we found, to take him to the dentist, shopping or just sight-seeing. He met most of the rest of us at a potluck dinner on Friday. Spending time with Anas has been a real pleasure. He is very sweet, open and warm – as appears to be the whole family, who sent us a heartfelt video message from Lebanon.

We have been overwhelmed by all the support we and Anas’ family have received. Everyone wants to help. Lisa, John and their children, a family we did not know before, offered their beautiful basement apartment to Anas until his family arrives and everyone moves into permanent housing. They treat him like a family member and even took him to their cottage for the week end where he will have a ‘real’ Canadian experience. 

The dentist of one our group members offered free dental work, as Anas arrived with a toothache. The manager of the building the family will move into has been very flexible and accommodating. And a great number of people have been extremely generous with their monetary or in-kind donations.

We can’t thank the interpreters enough who are helping us – most of all Ammar, but also Moustapha and Mahmoud from the Arab community center. 

Technology has been our friend. Smartphones have helped Anas share his first impressions of Canada with his family, and we found apps that have helped us communicate when no interpreter is around, such as google translate and ‘say hi’. 

Friday, 27 November 2015

Ripples are spreading

At one of our first meetings, a seasoned refugee sponsor came to talk with us about his experiences. In the face of our uncertainty about the path ahead, he told us that this process would affect our refugee family’s life, but it would enrich ours too, and change us in ways we can’t imagine. 

My husband Tony and I have already begun to reap those very personal rewards. Last week, arriving at Pearson Airport after a twenty hour trip from Asia, jet lagged by 13 hours, we staggered to the taxi rank at 2 AM, just wanting to fall into bed and sleep for as long as possible. In the middle of the night, there was no queue and we got into the first cab waiting, and logged onto the internet after a long period off line. We were delighted to find that citizens had quickly funded the repairs needed for the mosque that was set on fire in Peterborough, and we chatted about this and about our excitement that the first member of our Syrian family was arriving soon. 

Our driver, who wore the beard and white skull cap typical of Afghan or Pakistani Muslims, suddenly asked – who is arriving? And we told him a bit about ‘our’ family. Where are they coming from? We told him that they were in Lebanon, and how our Ripple Refugee group had worked to formally sponsor them to come to Canada. By this time we were approaching our neighbourhood. The cab driver, previously silent, quietly began a stream of “may god bless you – it is wonderful what you are doing – you are good people”. We nearly missed our turning, as he became more and more animated! 

And before we left the vehicle, we talked a bit more, establishing a warm bond with someone we might barely have exchanged a word with on previous rides. He welcomed us back to our home in the best possible way, and we hope that we, too, reaffirmed his place in our city and our country. Ripples are spreading!

(By Beth Savan)

Monday, 23 November 2015

Sweet discoveries

The hours are counting down until ‘our’ Syrian family arrives in Toronto. It has been quite a journey since the Mother’s Day meeting that Andrew and Claudia organized in their home in Riverdale and the idea of helping sponsor a refugee family was first floated.  In the months since then, there have been many meetings, much discussion and a lot of legwork. And funds have been raised through generous charitable contributions from many individuals to support the costs of sponsorship.  The 17 individuals in our group have grown into a strong and competent team, guided by Andrew’s strong leadership as Chair, with each of us involved in one or more of the complicated challenges of sponsoring and settling the family.
Along with Rebecca and Claudia, I am on the Housing Committee with the task of identifying both short-term, as well as longer term, accommodation. The best part of this task has been our scouting trips to vibrant communities on the east side of Toronto that I knew of but had never visited. 

Apartment buildings with affordable rents in Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park looked promising, as did their surrounding communities. However, we settled on the Victoria Park and Lawrence area when we discovered that there was a strong Syrian community already there.  The apartment building that we identified for the family is close to a public school, as well as a medical clinic, shopping and transit, and has abundant green space. It seems like a good spot to start life in Canada.

On one of our visits to Victoria Park and Lawrence, Rebecca took us to Crown Pastries, a Syrian bakery at 2086 Lawrence Avenue East that she had discovered the week before. Beautiful pastries reminiscent of baklava, but not quite, were arrayed before us and we stocked up with yummy treats for our upcoming meeting of the Ripple Refugee Group. 

In an effort to gain more information about the community, Rebecca approached a family who was also buying pastries in the shop. We learned that they were originally from Iraq and had traveled from Buffalo that day to come to the bakery!
These discoveries of community and food have been a wonderful side benefit of the housing work and a reminder to me to embrace Toronto’s diversity with gusto.  

They have also made me prickly to the backlash that has occurred in the city following the Paris attacks of November 13.  The assault of a woman wearing a hijab as she  walked to pick up her boys from school was shocking in its own right but struck close to home  because it occurred in Flemingdon Park, one of the communities that we had visited.  

Although much has been done to prepare for the arrival of our family, the journey is really only just beginning. Over the next year, the Ripple Refugee Group will be responsible for the health and well being of the eight family members as they settle into life in Canada. No doubt, there will be many discoveries ahead for all of us – family and group members, alike. It is an exciting and promising time to be embarking on this journey.  What a privilege to be on board.

(By Pegi Dover)

Saturday, 21 November 2015

We saw our family on TV!

We could not believe our eyes when we watched the CBC's The National tonight: the family of eight we are sponsoring was interviewed in Beirut, before flying to Canada! They seem super-nice, we are excited to welcome them in Toronto soon!

From watching the report we are not sure if they know about us, if they received the letter (translated into Arabic) we sent them through Citizenship and Immigration Canada. We also still don't have the arrival dates for the rest of the family.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Update: The first family member will arrive next week

Great news: We have been informed that one of the sons of the family of eight we are sponsoring will arrive in a few days. The sponsorship agreement holder we are working with, Christie Refugee Welcome Center, has not been informed why the family is not travelling together and when the rest of the family will arrive - hopefully we will know more once he is here! Our arrival and post-arrival preparations are in full gear, and luckily we have been able to secure temporary housing for the first family member. 

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Refugees should not pay the price for cowardly terrorist attacks

It only took a few hours after last week’s horrific attacks in Paris before a backlash against migrants and refugees started. Right-wing European politicians who had already claimed that incoming refugees present a security risk immediately asked that the continent should shut its doors. In the United States, more than half the nation's governors say they oppose letting Syrian refugees into their states. 

The Canadian government has thankfully remained level-headed and reaffirmed its election pledge to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this year, while Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has also confirmed the province's commitment to bring in Syrian refugees fleeing civil war. Some conservative politicians such as Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, however, have asked PM Trudeau to scrap his plan, and online petitions are making the rounds asking for the same. 

While most Canadians remain positive about bringing in more refugees to Canada, many online comments connected to articles about migrants and refugees are outright vitriolic, and there have even been a couple of attacks on Muslims in Canada. A Muslim woman was attacked by two men while picking up her children from a Toronto public school on Monday who called her a “terrorist”. Earlier, a mosque in Peterborough was badly damaged by a fire that appears to have been deliberately set. 

Let’s get the facts straight. Many Syrian refugees are fleeing the same people that committed the heinous attacks in France. They are victims of the war in their country, not perpetrators. Terrorists don’t risk their and their children’s lives on rickety boats on the Mediterranean, or walk for thousands of kilometers through increasingly hostile countries in Europe in the hope of finding a better, safer life, far away from their homes. Terrorists don’t spend months and even years living in deplorable conditions in refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey, Iraq or Lebanon.
Syrian refugees living in makeshift shelters in Lebanon's Bekaa valley (@MSF)
Most refugees are just as shocked about last week’s attack as people in Europe or North America. “They are devastated by what happened in Paris,” Paul Yon, the head of mission for Doctors Without Borders in Lebanon, where more than one million Syrian refugees live, told Le Journal de Montreal . "People have Internet access and the backlash is very hard on them. People here aspire only to have a better life, and we close the doors.” 

Now, more than ever, is the time to show solidarity and compassion towards refugees, not mistrust or even hatred. We should bring in more, not fewer refugees. Otherwise, we will let the terrorists win. 

(By Claudia Blume)

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Fundraising: How our group did it

Wanting to help refugee families start new lives in Canada - under Canada's Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program - first means fundraising. 
Of course, fundraising is only one part of the resettlement process; there are already good resources to help groups learn how to do the many other things that need to be done, such find and furnish accommodations, navigate the healthcare and education systems, even how to make an airport welcome sign.

We’ve not, however, seen a single resource on how to fundraise. But this blog post is also not a “how to fundraise for your refugee family” either. It’s something between “how we made fundraising happen” and “how fundraising happened to us.” It’s a case study: a case in how our group - one of hundreds of private sponsorship groups - has raised over $50,000 so far to resettle a family of eight.  Because we're not done. Human need is human need, and there's still a lot more out there unfortunately. So while we've raised enough for one family (from Syria) and are awaiting their imminent arrival, we continue to fundraise because we intend to sponsor and settle additional families. Our overall goal is to raise as much as possible. More money = more refugee families safe in Canada. 
A lot of other groups have asked us how we've done it so far, and we find the same situation over and again: people who are fearless about assuming responsibility for a refugee family from somewhere they may not have heard of before recently, who will find and furnish shelter for them, and, for the next year, commit to supporting the family each step of the way as they integrate into life in Canada. All this the sponsor groups seem to take in stride.
But what scares them? The FUNDRAISING.
And so here's the fundraising part of The Ripple Refugee Project story to now. Some of this may read as superb luck meeting opportunity. It was. But there's an equal amount of opportunity meeting preparedness. If you’re also part of a group trying to fundraise for a refugee family, know that you have just as much luck, opportunity, and preparedness waiting for you as we did. It’s all a ripple effect when you want something so much for other people.

Here’s how we raised the money:

1. We gelled as a team. We didn’t all know each other four months ago, and together had taken on a big mandate. Our motivation is part of our shared common humanity, but still: the work must get done. We’ve also signed a Memorandum of Understanding amongst ourselves.
It’s taken us two or three months to really get humming, because we made sure to put in strong administrative processes before diving into the fundraising. Form, norm, storm.
We’ve a strong leader/chairperson in our group’s founder, and also made sure we had a firm understanding of our own roles. We’re know that fundraising is social, and that fundraising culture starts within - all our meetings start with a potluck dinner, which we linger over. Because it’s over these dinners that the culture of our group formed and is still forming, based on the different backgrounds, attitudes, and expectations each member brings. Because people are different, groups are all different. We continue to monitor our group dynamic and tweak our approach and philosophy as we deepen our relationships and understand each other more.

2. We set our financial goal. In educating ourselves on our sponsorship options as private citizens, we learned there were two streams we could consider:
  1. Named Case: where private citizens identify and put forth name(s) of people who should be considered refugees to bring to Canada. In this stream, it takes at least 12 months for the government to review the file, and the process could take years before resettlement is a reality. And the full cost of sponsorship is shouldered by the private citizens.
  1. BVOR (“Blended Visa Office-Referred” program): a three-way partnership among the UNHCR, Government of Canada, and private sponsorship groups. In this scenario, people's cases have already been reviewed and deemed eligible for refugee status in Canada. The advantage of this stream is the timeline is short: the file of the refugee has already been approved, and in many cases they’re ready to travel. Best of all, the government will pay around 40% of the cost of resettling.

Originally, we were targeting a family of four, which costs $27,000. As the government would be kicking in $10,000, we needed $17,000 in an account. As we have a large group (17 members) we felt that everyone’s portion was doable (though we didn’t then and have never monitored each group members’ fundraising progress; in notionally dividing the goal by the number of group members, we felt success was doable). $17,000 was our original fundraising goal to sponsor a family of four (though the situation changed for us).  

3. We created a Bridge Fund. This was money that was on loan by us, Ripple Refugee Project members. Before we could even put our hand up to apply to sponsor a family, we had to have the money in our account. At the same time, we decided we didn’t want to start soliciting with a general pitch. We felt as a group that our fundraising would be most effective if we had a profile of “our” family and their story. It was a conundrum: we couldn’t get a profile until we had raised a lot of money, and yet we didn’t want to fundraise until we had the family's profile. So we put the money in ourselves on loan to trigger getting matched with a specific family whose story we could tell. As donations come in, members are reimbursed or decide to just leave their loans as additional gifts. 
4. We created a web presence through our blog and Facebook page. These establish our legitimacy, we think, and also give us a place to solicit online donations, and update donors on our progress. They also give the outside world a way to contact us.
5. We ensured financial accountability and donor stewardship. We developed financial controls and wrote a financial policy, which is public. We’re always updating our donor FAQ (“how will you disburse money to the family?” or “what happens if you raise more money than your stated goal?”). And we’ve started sending email updates to our donor list as we get meaningful information to report.
6. The Syrian crisis and Ripple Refugee Group got strong media attention.
September 2, 2015: four years into the crisis, little Aylan Kurdi’s picture became a symbol of the unacceptable human suffering of the Syrian civil war. Finally, the world was paying attention.
September 5, 2015: Luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity. Ripple member Dr. Raghu Venugopal’s appearance on CBC's The Current was pivotal in getting us matched with a family by Lifeline Syria (the executive director was listening to the interview), and kick-started our fundraising.

7. We got adopted. After seeing the picture of lifeless Aylan on the Turkish beach, Dr. Jennifer Bryan, emergency physician at University Health Network, sent out an email to a group of 70 doctors, suggesting that they together should help with this humanitarian crisis. On the distribution list was Raghu Venugopal, just fresh from his national media appearance on Ripple's behalf. At that point, we’d been matched with our family, and Raghu was able to tell his colleague, Jennifer, this news and suggested the UHN group of doctors work through The Ripple Refugee Project.
Now, the family we’d just been matched with was a special case: three generations comprising of eight family members, one of whom has mobility issues. Our fundraising goal had just necessarily more than doubled, but the UHN doctors agreed it made sense to partner with a larger family and one with medical needs. As individuals, the doctors pledged a total amount together of $44,000 (THANK YOU AGAIN AND MERCI, UHN DOCTORS!).
Traditionally, refugee sponsorship has been done predominantly by the church/synagogue/mosque model. In this age, it makes sense that a congregation of doctors also fulfils this role.

8. We got the ability to give our donors tax receipts. One of our members, a public nurse, is also a Ryerson graduate and we were accepted as part of the Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge campaign. After the media interest, this was the other huge breakthrough to help our fundraising: our donors were able to receive tax receipts, and we could take advantage of Ryerson’s online donation page and gift processing. Thank you Ryerson!

9. We solicited donations. We finally had momentum and gift processing capability. Through letters, email, face-to-face meetings and by social media, we talked about our project all the time, and asked for donations. Through Ryerson, we get a weekly confidential update on new donors to our fund (without showing the individual amounts).
10. We’re always motivated by the ripple effect. You just never know what can happen. The friend of one of our members saw the solicitation request on Facebook, and forwarded it to a friend. Who sent it to another friend. Who showed it to a client. This client came forward and pledged up to $1 million to resettle 20 families (note: this philanthropist will not be working through our group. There's no way we can manage more than one family at a time).
The concentric circles of our ripple effect also manifest in the hours we spend speaking at rotary clubs and with other private sponsorship groups just starting out. We aim to work in the open, and have a public Google drive with all the documents we've created that others may find useful. 

And we hope that if you’re in such a group, that you find our fundraising story inspiring. And if you’re not, that you consider forming your own group to resettle one family of the four million refugees who've had to flee their home country, or making a donation.

By Rebecca Davies (this post was also published on the 101Fundraising blog)

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Our application has been approved!

Great news! We learned from our partners at Ryerson's Lifeline Syria Challenge today that our application to sponsor the Syrian family  we have been matched with has been approved by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. 

The file has been transferred to the Canadian Embassy in Beirut, where the visa officers will now continue to process the refugee applicants' part of the application.

The clock is ticking ... if all goes well, the family could be in Toronto in a few weeks already!

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Toronto Star: Citizens step up where city fails

Citizens step up where city fails refugees
Ripple Refugee Project is made up of average Torontonians resolved not just to sponsor Syrian refugees arriving here but to befriend and aid them once they’re here.

Where is the heart?”
That’s what exasperated Mayor John Tory wanted to know this week when some members of his executive committee questioned spending $600,000 to welcome Syrian refugees to Toronto and help them settle. That money is just a drop in the city’s $10-billion bucket. We have cash to drag Muskoka chairs and planters onto John St., and spurt water from underground fountains in Nathan Phillips Square, but not to welcome people who arrive to our city with nothing but bruising memories and loneliness?

“Where is the heart?”I’ll tell you where it is. It’s beating around kitchen tables across the city.
In the past three months, more than 220 groups have formed and signed up with the fledgling organization Lifeline Syria to personally sponsor refugees. Most have committed to raising $27,000 — the minimum required to support a refugee family of four for a year. They’ve promised to prop that family up onto its feet for a year, setting up the basics — a place to live, furniture, OHIP cards, English lessons . . .

And they’ve pledged to be their first friends, for life is more than basics. It is walks along the boardwalk and visits to the museum, and learning the difference between Vietnamese pho and Chinese ramen.
Most of these people are average citizens, like you and me. They haven’t done this before. They are learning, as they go. They are sure, only, that this is the right thing to do.

“We needed to do something,” said Andrew FitzGerald, an online art-gallery owner who organized a meeting at his Riverdale home in May. Around 35 people crammed into his living room for tea and presentations from three experts on the practicalities and emotions of sponsorship.
Eight people signed up that day. Over the next few weeks, another eight people joined, “most of them, I didn’t know,” FitzGerald said.
They call themselves the Ripple Refugee Project.

“I couldn’t walk around another day. Here I am getting Americanos and people are drowning,” said Dr. Raghu Venugopal, an emergency-room doctor who has volunteered on five missions to war-torn African countries with Médecins Sans Frontières. You’d think all that life-saving would exempt him from feelings of guilt stirred up by that photo of little Alan Kurdi, lying on the Turkish beach as though he was napping. Not so.

“You have to ask yourself, do you really believe in the notion that all life is equal?” said Venugopal, 41.
When his colleagues inside University Health Network’s emergency rooms heard about Ripple, they pledged $41,000 in a single week. Add emergency rooms to the list of places where the city’s heart resides.

Over the past few months, this group of strangers-becoming-friends have grappled with some of the same issues stumping politicians. Is it really their role to do this? What kind of precedent would it set? What if the family they sponsor has diametrically different values to theirs?
“They’ll be worrying about their children and schooling, finding jobs, getting a family doctor and finding food they like. The shared humanity that comes out of it will quickly overcome the surface differences between our two groups,” said FitzGerald, 52.

A couple weeks ago, Venugopal got a call from Alexandra Kotyk, project manager of Lifeline Syria. She told him about a Syrian family, approved by the Canadian government as refugees, Ripple could sponsor.The hitch — it has eight members, double the number they were expecting.They would need double the manpower, double the money and double the heart. Plus, the grandfather has health challenges. He is in a wheelchair.

The group’s response was summed up by Nancy Graham, a public health nurse: “We’ve struck gold.”
Using your heart feels good.This week, Ripple members drafted an agreement with the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre to formally sponsor the family, and Ryerson University which has offered logistical support and its charitable status.
Kotyk plans to submit all the paperwork to Citizenship and Immigration Canada next week. It will be Lifeline Syria’s second formal application.

The group expects to welcome the three generations of this Syrian family within weeks. They are now frantically sourcing furniture and rental housing.

Helping just one family seems like a drop in another bucket. More than four million people have fled Syria’s civil war. But they called themselves Ripple for a reason. They hope to inspire other groups of regular Torontonians to follow suit — with money, sweat and yes, heart.
“There’s another ripple effect,” says FitzGerald. “When you change someone’s life for the better, that reverberates through society.”

Catherine Porter can be reached at cporter@thestar.ca

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

We have been matched with a Syrian refugee family!

After a bit of a slow period waiting to be accepted by a sponsorship agreement holder (and most of us being away in August) things have suddenly moved very fast. After Raghu’s interview with the CBC’s The Current, our group was approached by Lifeline Syria, an organization that aims to resettle at least 1,000 Syrian refugees in the Greater Toronto area over the next two years. They asked if we were interested in sponsoring a Syrian refugee family of eight – grandparents, three adult sons (one of them with a mobility issue), a daughter-in-law and two young grandchildren. The family has been approved by the UNHCR and the Canadian government, and is ready to travel.

While sponsoring a family of eight was more than what we had anticipated, the group members’ positive response to the matching request was swift and unanimous. Although we had been open to sponsoring any refugees who need help, many of us have been particularly moved by the plight of Syrian refugees.

Our sponsorship agreement holder is Christie Refugee Welcome Center, but our biggest direct partner in the sponsorship process will be the Lifeline Syria Challenge team at Ryerson University.
Several of us had great meetings with both organizations yesterday, discussing the process and next steps. We received a lot of new, interesting information - we did not know, for example, that refugees receive their flight tickets to Canada as a loan that they need to pay back. 

We were delighted to hear from Samantha and Emma at Lifeline Syria Challenge that many Ryerson students have volunteered to help groups such as ours with research work and practical help. Most importantly, many of the student volunteers are Arabic-speakers (some are even from Syria), a skill that will be desperately needed as none of us speaks the language. They can even provide us with a cultural orientation before the family arrives.

Meeting at Lifeline Syria Challenge, Ryerson University
Once the paperwork has been finalized, the family could arrive any time between one and three months and there is still a lot that needs to be done!

For starters, we need to raise $50,000 to cover half of the family’s living expenses in the first year. The rest will be covered by the Canadian government.

We are very fortunate that a group of Raghu and Wendy's emergency doctor colleagues have already offered to provide financial support. The group is lead by physicians at the University Health Network, with support from doctors at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and St. Michael's Hospital. To date, the emergency physician's group has pledged $ 40,000, bringing the Ripple Refugee group well within reach of our fundraising target for the first family we sponsor. 
We are excited that Jennifer from the University Health Network joined our group last week and that Rebecca, a fundraising guru with tons of experience, became a member this week.

Please help us reach $ 50,000 by donating here.

On the drop-down menu ‘Select a designation for your gift’, select:
Andrew FitzGerald “Ripple Refugee Project”.

The donations with be handled by Ryerson University and you will be issued a charitable tax receipt. Our group will be sponsoring additional refugee families in the future, so any donations above the $50,000 target will be used for those subsequent settlements. 

If you want to help through in-kind-donations (especially furniture) please send us a message through this blog site. 

Sunday, 13 September 2015

New Canadian government support for Syrian refugees

Things are finally moving in Canada. International Development Minister Christian Paradis announced a Syrian emergency relief fund on Saturday that will match donations from Canadians up to $100 million.

And on the same day, the Ontario government pledged $10.5 million to the Syrian refugee crisis and hopes the province can resettle 10.000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016.

A Global News reporter did a short interview with our group member Andrew for her story.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

"The roadblock is the Canadian government"

The shocking photo of 3-year old Syrian Aylan Kurdi, found lifeless on a Turkish beach a few days ago, appears to have generated more empathy for the plight of refugees, and more media interest, than any other report about migrants in previous months. Canadians are increasingly holding their government accountable for not bringing in more refugees, especially Syrian refugees, and for letting Europe deal with the growing migrant crisis on its own. The government is far from reaching its already modest goal of bringing in 10,000 Syrians over 3 years, with only about 700 arriving in Canada last year. The CBC's The Current talked to our group member Raghu about some of the frustrations sponsorship groups such as ours are facing. Following the great, in-depth interview, Raghu was bombarded with other media requests. Hopefully the attention the migrant issue is finally getting will push the Canadian government to bring in more Syrian and other refugees as soon as possible, and to make it easier for people like us to sponsor them.

Listen to Raghu's interview: http://bit.ly/1L7nEz4


Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Where are the Syrian refugees?

The CBC's Ontario Today aired an interesting show today about what it takes to sponsor refugees, featuring the efforts of Lifeline Syria, a group that is trying to get 1000 Syrian refugees into the GTA, and others. Our very own Raghu called in and voiced some of the frustrations our group is facing:

Where are the Syrians on the sponsorship list? Why are there  bottlenecks to find sponsorship agreement holders? Why does the Canadian government make it so difficult for a motivated group such as ours to sponsor refugees?

Listen to Ontario Today: What it takes to sponsor refugees