Thursday, 24 November 2016

A message to our donors

The members of the Ripple Refugee Project wanted to provide all of you, our generous donors, with an update on the Abdallah family, who arrived from Syria to Canada last December, and regarding other sponsorships and initiatives undertaken by the Ripple Refugee Group.

The Abdallahs are settling well into their new life here in Toronto.  All the family members are working hard to develop their English language skills which is a priority in order to provide them with a solid foundation for their new life. The two youngest family members, who are 6 and 8, are already pretty much fluent while the adults are making great progress. Now with the 12th-month anniversary approaching, attention is turning to finding work so that they can support themselves going forward.

Baby shower for the soon-to-arrive newest family member

IT TAKES A VILLAGE
:  We have had tremendous support in settling this family into their new life from so many different organizations and individuals and we want to thank everyone who has been involved.  While there are too many to mention, we want to highlight the support from the University Health Network (UHN), the Arab Community Centre of Toronto (ACCT), Access Alliance, Dentists, Sunnybrook Hospital, Ryerson University, Lifeline Syria, the many volunteer Arabic-speaking interpreters and members of that community, and from a wide range of other people in the extended Toronto community.

And of course, our refugee sponsorships would not be possible without all of your generous donations - THANK YOU!

UPCOMING ARRIVALS - We are looking forward to welcoming a family of 3 before Christmas, who are arriving from Syria via Turkey with a new born baby in tow.  We also have an application for another family of 3 and for a single young man who is related to the Abdallahs, who should all be here hopefully by mid 2017. The Ripple group plans to continue sponsoring refugees over the coming years - it has been such a rewarding and transformative experience for all of us.

As Ryerson Lifeline Syria has stopped accepting donations for all their sponsorship teams, which we are one of, we will be working with another organization to continue our funding efforts in order to support the sponsorship of more refugee families in the future - Please stand by for an update regarding this new donation channel. 

ON-GOING ADVOCACY AND SUPPORT EFFORTS - From the beginning, an important goal of the Ripple Refugee Project was to advocate to the government and public for the value and importance of the Private Sponsorship model, to encourage people to get involved and to support other private sponsorship groups in whatever way we can. Below are some more recent examples of our efforts in this area:

- We continue to meet with other private sponsorship groups to provide guidance in their efforts

Canada4Refugees.org:  3 of our members were co-founders of the Canada4Refugees group which formed last May in order to advocate for and provide support to the citizen-led refugee resettlement model and initiatives.    

- Advocacy through the media in order to build domestic and international support for Syrian refugee initiatives, the private sponsorship model and to encourage people to get involved: 

a) Our newcomer family was recently featured on BBC International Radio and TV broadcasts (click here to view the heartwarming TV story) which also shows an amazing surprise reunion between the BBC reporter, Lyse Ducet and a Syrian family that was last seen in dire circumstances in Damascus.

b) The family and the Ripple Refugee Project group were also featured in the Globe and Mail (Click Here) 

c) On Dutch TV (starts at minute:17:23) (Click Here).

d) Al Jazeera's TV show, "The Stream" (Click Here), featured The Ripple Refugee Project in its episode on private citizens helping Syrian Refugeesple Refugee Project. 

WISHING YOU ALL THE BEST FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON

MANY THANKS AGAIN FOR YOUR SUPPORT



Sunday, 13 November 2016

A few things we have learned in the first year

It has been almost one year since the Syrian family of eight we are sponsoring has arrived in Toronto. As we are waiting for a second family to arrive, it’s time to take stock. It has been an extremely eventful, rewarding, but also challenging year.  Here are some of the lessons we have learned.*

It’s a life-changing experience

Although the past year has at times been challenging and frustrating, by and large the sponsorship has been one of the most rewarding experiences many of us have ever had. We have not only gained the friendship of a Syrian newcomer family, but we have also grown together as a group and felt part of a larger community, of something bigger than ourselves. While sponsoring a family is a small act in the big scheme of things, it has completely transformed not only this family’s, but also our lives in more ways than we could have imagined.

It’s a big commitment

Several times it hit us what a big commitment we had taken on. All of a sudden we were responsible for eight complete strangers who did not speak a word of English, had never traveled anywhere besides Syria and Lebanon and did not know how things worked in Canada. It was very daunting - almost like adopting a child. Especially at the beginning, settling in the family was very time-consuming and quite challenging because we did not speak each other’s language. The commitment does not stop once the family has moved into an apartment, has all their documents and is enrolled in English lessons. Not only does the practical support continue, but it becomes increasingly an emotional commitment, one that does not stop once the sponsorship year is over. Several of us have formed strong ties with the family, and we hope that the sponsorship relationship will turn into a lasting friendship.  

The family invited us to an Iftar meal during their first Ramadan in Canada

It takes a village

We are very fortunate that the members of our group have a wide range of professional backgrounds - such as health, education and human resources - which made dividing and tackling the multitude of tasks of the settlement process a lot easier. But it was much more than our group that helped settle in the family. Several dentists have provided their services for free. A family we did not previously know, offered temporary housing.  Several community groups collected goods and clothes for newcomers. Within hours of sending a request to our networks, a complete set of baby items – from a stroller to a crib – had been donated for the soon-to-arrive newest member of the family. Ryerson students mentored one of the sons of the family who wants to study here. Several organizations, such as the Arab community center, have given us invaluable support when needed. This amazing outpouring of help from many Canadians has been one of the most positive experiences during our sponsorship year.

Manage expectations

Before we took on the sponsorship, an experienced private sponsor gave us an important piece of advice that helped us manage expectations from the outset: It’s important to remember that the sponsors’ primary job is to settle in refugees as best as they can. If they become friends with the newcomers, that’s an added bonus, but don’t be disappointed if this does not happen, or if you don’t get along. (Luckily for us, we got on really well with the family from day one).
We also realized that a number of our expectations for settling in a newcomer family are driven by our cultural, social and educational background and bias – such as that women should be looking for work. It is important to communicate openly, to recognize cultural and social differences and adjust expectations.

An outing with the family to Niagara Falls

Don’t be scared of making mistakes

None of our group members had a lot of experience with Arab culture and a few mistakes were made. During one of our first visits to the family, for example, I kissed both the women and the men on the cheeks, suddenly realizing that this was probably a complete cultural faux pas. The family was completely unfazed, however, and has always been very forgiving and tolerant of our ignorance. Despite our cultural and social differences, we share a common humanity and emotional bond, and we found that it’s better to jump right in and make a few mistakes than being too shy and scared to interact with newcomers from a different culture with limited knowledge of English.

Don’t infantilize

Because the family we are sponsoring did initially not speak any English and did not know their way around, we took on a large number of jobs at the beginning – booking doctor and other appointments, for example, picking them up and driving them around, sometimes making decisions on their behalf. It is a fine line between helping people settle in and infantilizing them, making them dependent on our support. This goes both ways – the family often continued to ask for support even when we felt they could take on the task themselves. It is not always easy to figure out the right balance.


Being in Canada does not mean being happy ever after

Some people may expect that refugees’ problems are over once they reach Canada, where they are safe and have a roof over their heads. But while they are physically here – and grateful for the warm welcome they have received in Canada - their minds are often still back home. Gruesome images and news reports from the war in Syria are continuously coming in on various electronic devices. There is a constant stream of calls and messages from loved ones who are still in Syria or are refugees in neighbouring countries. The constant worry, and the guilt of being here and not being able to help, can be overwhelming, and makes settling in more difficult. Many sponsorship groups will face the challenge of being asked to sponsor additional family members.

Don’t let setbacks get you down

As with many things in life, sponsoring a refugee family is not always smooth sailing. There are many ups but also quite a few downs - unexpected challenges and frustrations.  It is important to accept that setbacks are normal - it does not mean that the settlement is unsuccessful.

Some of the Ripple Refugee group members at a meeting

Have a strong core group

While our group is relatively big, only a handful of people are actively engaged on a regular basis. Some members are traveling a lot, others are busy with work and family and only sporadically interact with our sponsored family. It is vital to have a strong leader and a small group of committed, hands-on members who continuously give the sponsored family not only practical, but also emotional support throughout the year. Before deciding to sponsor refugees, groups should discuss very clearly if members are around throughout the year, and are willing to be involved on a regular basis. Less engaged members can support the settlement activities on an ad hoc basis.

Do your homework

When we decided to sponsor refugees there were not many resources available. This has changed, and I would highly recommend to anyone thinking about sponsorship to either do a training with the Refugee SponsorshipTraining Program , or read one of the resources that are available, such as the Lifeline Syria sponsorship handbook.




*These personal reflections were written by RRP member Claudia Blume and don’t necessarily reflect the views of all members of the group

Friday, 9 September 2016

The benefits of private refugee sponsorship

Canada is unique in the world in having a program, the Privately Sponsored Refugee (PSR) program, wherein private citizens can form groups to sponsor and help settle refugees.  In 1986, this program won the UN’s Nansen Medal, the only time a whole country has been recognized by this refugee-focused award.  

Based on Canadian immigration department studies, refugees settled through the PSR model have much better long term outcomes than those who are settled by Government agencies.  For example, when compared to Government Assisted Refugees (GARs) after a year or two, PSRs have higher levels of English proficiency, are more likely to be working and at higher wage levels, are less likely to be relying on government agencies or financial support, report greater connection to their community and to the country and are less likely to return to their previous home country. 

There are a number of other very important direct and indirect benefits of the PSR model for settling refugees versus the more common Government-agency settlement model.  To begin with, since PSR’s are largely or wholly paid for out of private donations, this refugee settlement program is much more cost effective, from a Canadian taxpayer point of view.  Furthermore, for the private citizens who are involved, it is a real participatory, community-building experience which helps foster neighborhood relationships, enable cross-cultural understanding, build grass-roots support for refugee issues, increase appreciation for our communities and our country, and enhance citizens’ awareness of the challenges faced by the lower-income segments in our society.


Despite its many documented benefits versus the GAR model for settling refugees, government support for the PSR model has been modest, to say the least, over the last 40 years and it remains an under-promoted and underfunded program.   The general public’s interest and participation in the program has undergone enormous volatility over the years.  There was a major peak in 1979 / 1980 as a response to the so-called Vietnamese Boat-People crisis.   Then, after a long period of relatively low volumes with the exception of a spike during the Bosnian war, interest in the program has once again dramatically risen during the last 12 months as a result of the Syrian Crisis.  Outside of these 3 peak periods, participation in this program has been narrowly focused in faith communities or ethnic organizations rather than having a broader involvement from Canadian society as a whole.

It is also important to note that although PSR groups are executing on an important, sensitive, and complex project, that of settling and integrating into our communities vulnerable and, in some cases, traumatized people from widely different backgrounds, the Canadians who undertake these projects do so with little or no support, training, experience or qualifications.  The lack of advocates or centralized comprehensive resource supports for PSR groups leads them to feel like they are ‘going it alone’, ‘making it up as they go along’ and ‘reinventing the wheel’ in their efforts to settle refugees. 

By Andrew FitzGerald. This post has also been published on the Canada4Refugees blog. 

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Cooking with Nahla

Our group members spent a lot of time since the Abdallahs' arrival in December helping the family members navigate life in Toronto, trying to introduce them to Canadian life and culture. 

We realized that this has often been a one-way street. Because of the language barrier (which is getting smaller every day!) it has been more difficult for the family to share their culture and traditions with us. 
But one language is universal: food! We were very fortunate that Nahla, the matriarch of the family, and her daughter-in-law Sawsan showed us how to prepare some of their very delicious Syrian dishes. When we ate together – after patriarch Abdallah had given a beautiful Arabic blessing – we truly felt like one big family.

The women do not follow written recipes but we have taken notes of the ingredients and steps involved in making the dishes – we hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we did!




Chicken à la Nahla

1. Remove skin from chicken drumsticks, place them in big pot with boiling water
2. Add cinnamon powder and cinnamon sticks, cardamom, onion slices, salt, ginger, turmeric and coriander. Boil chicken in broth for 45 minutes
3. Peel potatoes, cut them into thin slices
4. Deep fry potato slices in batches, set aside.
5. Deep fry onion slices
6. Place one layer of fried potato slices on bottom of large casserole.
7. Add boiled chicken drumsticks on top. Add some of the chicken stock. Keep the rest for rice.
8. Add sliced onions and another layer of deep-fried potato slices
9. Put casserole in oven for 20 minutes or cook on stove for another 20 minutes
10. Mix freshly-squeezed lemon juice and minced garlic. Pour some of the mixture over the chicken casserole before serving

Syrian salad

1. Cut cucumbers, green peppers, carrots and tomatoes into small pieces
2. Chop mint, parsley and green salad
3. Mix in large bowl
4. Pour rest of the lemon-garlic mixture over the salad before serving







Fatteh

1. Cut pita bread into thin stripes
2. Deep-fry pita slices until crispy. Put aside
3. In large bowl, mix 2 containers of joghurt with two containers of hummus.
4. Add some Tahini
5. Add garlic, 1 spoonful of cardamom and mix well
6. Empty two chickpea containers with liquid into cooking pot, boil for a few minutes
7. Place pita strips on bottom of casserole dish
8. Ladle joghurt-hummus mix on pita strips
9. Sprinkle dish with cayenne pepper and cumin
10. Ladle heated chickpeas onto dish
11. Heat up ghee (optional), pour over Fatteh before serving


Rice à la Nahla
Fatteh, salad and Nahla's chicken dish

1. Mix dry rice with oil and ghee
2. Add salt, cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric and coriander
3. Add left-over chicken stock, with come chicken pieces
4. Bring to boil






By Claudia Blume

Friday, 8 April 2016

URGENT: Please tell your Liberal MP before Monday that the government needs to continue its support for Syrian refugees

As you may have read in the newspapers, it has become apparent to Private Sponsorship groups that the Canadian Government is pulling back in its support for Syrian Refugees now that they have met their election promise.

Yesterday the Ripple Refugee Group's chair Andrew FitzGerald, along with former Toronto mayor John Sewell and two other representatives from Private Sponsorship groups, had a private meeting with Immigration Minister McCallum in order to encourage continued Canadian government prioritization for the Private Sponsorship program for Syrian Refugees.

As there is a Liberal Party caucus meeting early next week to review their overall commitment to the Syrian refugee crisis, we encourage all of you to write to your local Liberal MP (you can find contact details for your MP here) copying Immigration Minister McCallum (email: john.mccallum@parl.gc.ca) to emphasize your strong support for continued focus on Syrian Refugees initiatives.


In particular, we want to communicate that 


1) We don't agree with the Government that any new applications, even if they are fully paid for and settled by private sponsorship groups, should be subject to overall refugee caps and be processed in the normal 24 - 42 month time frame.   This is an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and we have mobilized and privately-funded citizen groups ready to help out - lets not waste that resource!  


If this becomes government policy, as it looks likely to happen, then thousands of Private Sponsorship groups who have raised money and made preparations to settle Syrian families will have to wait several years or more before their applications are processed. 


2) Domestic and overseas immigration staffing resources should be restored to Feb. 2016 

levels to expedite the arrival of already approved Syrian refugee families to Canada.  Waiting until the end of 2016, or early 2017, as the government has indicated is the new timeline, for those whose applications are already in process puts the refugee families in danger given their precarious overseas living arrangements. 

We are at a turning point in this nation-wide, grassroots humanitarian project - but without government support it will all come to naught.  


Please do communicate with your Liberal MP and Minister McCallum as soon as possible to convey your strong support for this historical grassroots humanitarian initiative that Private Sponsorship groups represent.
.




Monday, 4 April 2016

New government policies put a damper on private refugee sponsorship

In the past six months, thousands of highly motivated people across Canada have come together to form sponsorship groups to bring in Syrian refugees, raising millions of dollars to support them in their first year. Given the priority the new Canadian government was giving to Syrian refugees, most have been optimistic that a family would be assigned to them soon and arrive within a few months.

But at the end of February, when the government had fulfilled its election promise to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees, it quietly and without warning changed its policy and the flow of refugees to sponsorship group was almost completely stopped. It appears that the majority of the 8,000 privately sponsored Syrian refugees who have arrived so far (17,000 were government-sponsored) were old applications initiated and in the pipeline long before the Alan Kurdi photo and therefore not part of the nationwide community private-sponsorship trend that started in September 2015.
To voice their anger about the change in government policies, more than 300 members of sponsorship groups gathered in a downtown Toronto church on March 30. The very emotionally charged meeting was convened by John Sewell, the former mayor of Toronto, who summed up the main policy changes that will result in a considerable delay in bringing in Syrian refugees:

1. The government has released all re-assigned and temporary staff processing Syrian refugees and closed processing centres in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. This means we are back to a system where it takes months to process and register a family through regular visa offices.

2. The government has released re-assigned temporary staff in the Winnipeg processing centre and no longer prioritizes Syrian families. Processing times used to be 10 days; now we are back to a three month processing time for a family.

3. There will no longer be a special priority for Syrians: they will be treated like other refugees, which means a long wait.

Syrian refugees will also have to pay for their flights to Canada again.


Arif Virani, Parliamentary Secretary of John McCallum, the Minister of Immigration Refugees and Citizenship, was at the meeting and told us that sponsorship applications received until midnight on March 31st – the next day!- would most likely still be processed in 2016, or early 2017. Obviously, a day’s notice for this deadline was not enough for most people to finish filing their application.




What can you do?

Write a letter to minister John McCallum (john.mccallum@parl.gc.ca) and copy his parliamentary secretary Arif Virani (arif.virani@paarl.ca) and your own MP (or better yet meet with your MP) to highlight / convey your displeasure and emphasize the following messages:

a) Government staffing / processing capacity should be restored immediately to pre-Feb, 28th levels in order to process existing and upcoming Syrian refugee applications as quickly as possible

b) No caps should be put on private sponsorships of Syrians since they are privately funded and settled - and therefore don't strain the government's settlement agencies or budget.   Furthermore, from an economic point of view, this would be a stimulus measure as there is upwards of $30mm sitting in bank accounts waiting to be spent by private sponsor groups in settling refugees. Spending this money would stimulate the economy more than leaving it sitting in bank accounts.

c) All Syrian applications currently in the pipeline, or submitted within the next 3 months, should be expedited as the Syrian situation is a huge, unique and global crisis and deserves our support and focus.

d) Overall, the government should seek to support private sponsorship groups that have formed across the country - and not abandon us in favour of their own Syrian GAR refugees.  They can do both. Privately sponsored refugees are more successfully settled compared to agency-settled refugees and have better long term outcomes (income, English skills, remaining in Canada etc.)

Please do share this information with your networks and encourage people to communicate with their MPs and Minister McCallum - we are at a cross-roads and the more people who clearly communicate with the government on this issue about what we expect government policy should be, the more likely that the Syrian refugee crisis will get the attention it deserves and private sponsorships will get the support they warrant. 

For more information and updates on this issue, go to the Toronto For Refugees blog.


What do these policy changes mean for the Ripple Refugee Group?

We had handed in applications for two more families to Lifeline Syria, but they had not been sent to the government yet. One of our group members worked until the early morning after the March 30 meeting to finalize these applications with the Lifeline Syria team to meet the March 31 deadline. We are working on the applications for two more case files and hope that the government will extend the deadline – if not, we may have to wait for a year or even longer before they will be able to come to Canada.

Friday, 5 February 2016

"Soon, all of Canada will be our family"

"We were humiliated in Lebanon. Here, we're happy and feel respected,' the Abdallah family told the CBC's Piya Chattopadhyaya in a lovely documentary that aired on the The Current this morning. Thank you to the CBC for letting the (very articulate) family tell their story in their own words - from their traumatic experiences in Syria and Lebanon to a hopeful new beginning in Canada.