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What's Your Role In Welcoming Syrian Newcomers?

12/08/2015 04:17 EST | Updated 12/08/2016 05:12 EST

By Hugh Brewster, National Manager of Canadian Programs, World Vision Canada

The first planes filled with Syrian refugees are touching down in Canada this week. And as these families step onto the chilly tarmac, a transformation will take place.

We will no longer just be following their heartbreaking stories from a distance. Some of the people caught in this devastating conflict, people who have been so hotly debated about in the media, in workplaces, and around dinner tables, will now have a new home and a new life here in Canada.

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Photo/World Vision

We may finally get a chance to meet them personally in the weeks to come, at the community rink, at the grocery store, and at our kids' schools. From this point onward, there's only one question we need to keep asking ourselves: how can we best welcome Syrian families as they adjust to life in Canada?

By getting involved and pitching in, we can all make a huge difference in the ease of their transition to life in our Canadian communities.

It's worked before

In my work with World Vision Canada's Canadian Programs, I've seen how Canadians can rise to the rewarding challenge of welcoming newcomers.

I've had the experience of meeting children in Toronto or Vancouver who just days before were fleeing violence and persecution on the other side of the world. I've seen them gaze around at their new surroundings with big, uncertain eyes. And heard them tentatively offer their first words in a brand new language.

As part of my work, I've had the privilege of meeting with the same children a year later, and hearing them tell me -- in English -- about a new friend at school or about their safe, quiet apartment. I've seen them delighting in kicking around a soccer ball with neighbourhood volunteers with whom they're now cooking dinner each week. This is what "welcome" looks like, in loving, human terms.

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In Hamilton, a community group cooks dinner with newcomer families, using produce they've grown together through an organization called A Rocha. Many of these newcomers have escaped Syria. Photo/World Vision

In order for this transition to happen, the Canadian newcomers will need much more than roofs over their heads and three square meals a day. It's absolutely essential that they feel welcome and supported.

Here are five ways Canadians can go beyond cash donations to help incoming Syrian families:

  1. Understand the crisis and talk about it. Do your homework. Learn what the newcomers have been through. Use your knowledge to dispel myths with friends, families and co-workers to promote positive perceptions.
  2. Share your knowledge online. Use the Twitter #CanadiansWelcome as a forum for ideas on how to help. World Vision will share friendly messages and videos with resettlement organizations.
  3. Be a good neighbour. Contact local sponsorship committees or refugee service organizations and offer your time and your friendship. Offer to accompany newcomers to medical appointments, to make phone calls to arrange visits to potential apartments, or host a child's first tobogganing party at a local hill.
  4. Donate professional time. Translators, language tutors, lawyers, family counselors and other professionals can assist their adaptation to life in Canada.
  5. Do your own fundraising. Host a yard sale or bake sale or organize a local community event. Prepare to donate clothing and household items but make sure that they are items specifically requested by receiving organizations.

This is a golden opportunity for Canadians to show a true Canadian welcome and open our hearts to families who have been through so much. Syrian families will be adjusting to a whole new life, a new climate, a new everything.

Those sponsored by church or neighbourhood groups will have some committed volunteers on standby to help with some of the things they'll need. But government-assisted refugees in particular may lack connections to any 'established' Canadians. There are many practical things we can to do as 'good neighbours' to help them feel right at home.

It takes sponsorship or government assistance to bring these newcomers to Canada, but a warm welcome and ongoing support will help them thrive in their new home here in Canada.

Go to #CanadiansWelcome

Read stories of Syrian refugees

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