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)