For many Syrian refugees, the promise of a brighter future in Canada is muddied by the daunting reality of starting fresh in a new and foreign country, with language and culture barriers adding to the uncertainty.
Scadding Court Community Centre took steps to help a group of refugees overcome some of those challenges Saturday, March 12, bringing Syrians, translators and key service providers together under one roof.
The event, hosted in Scadding’s gym, featured information booths set up by community agencies and local organizations including Toronto Public Health, the Toronto Police Service, Acces Employment, Toronto Western Hospital, the Ontario Disability Support Program and others.
“We’ve been in touch with a couple of local motels to find places for people to stay and there are a lot of people in the community who want to help out and there are a lot of ways that (the refugees) need support,” Scadding Court development worker Koel Ganguli said.
She added that Scadding itself was looking to add programs to help the newcomers transition to their adoptive country. With upwards of 100 newcomers looking to settle in that area of the city at least for a while, such services will certainly be needed.
“We’ll probably look at more family-oriented programs, and we have a large number of families with infants,” she said. “There are a lot of programs that we could offer or increase, like computer training, child care, language programs and helping with newcomer services.
Scadding Court is also offering up its gym space on a regular basis so that refugee children have a safe space to get together and get some exercise.
“These kids are staying in hotels, so we wanted to give them a place to come and play,” Ganguli said. “They can use the gym and the pool’s open now, too.”
Obid Abozid, who came to Canada in late February, said Saturday’s event at Scadding was a huge help in helping with the settlement process, and the volunteer translators on hand for the event made it far easier to connect with the agencies present.
“The biggest thing now is the language (barrier),” he said through an interpreter. “It’s important to find the organizations we need, so something like this (event) makes it a lot easier.”
Abozid, who was looking primarily for help with getting banking information sorted out, said having a number of major organizations in one place helped break down serious obstacles toward integrating in Canadian society.
“It’s not as scary as it seems when so many things we need are right here,” he said.
Mariam Algoabra, who has been in Canada for just more than three weeks, said having a number of key community agencies would help with such things as employment, but noted there are still a number of barriers to fully integrating.
“The language is still hard, and we’re still stuck in a small room at the hotel,” she said through an interpreter. “We have to start all over with everything. It helps to have this (event) to help us learn more about Canada.”
Trinity-Spadina Councillor Joe Cressy, who attended Saturday’s welcome event, noted that the Syrian refugees are experiencing what so many Torontonians and their ancestors went through in settling in a new city in a new country.
“Whether from Ireland, Mexico, Sudan or Syria, we’re a city of refugees,” he said. “Canada was built by newcomers, and in a sense, we’re all newcomers welcoming newcomers here.”