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It takes a village to resettle a family

Student volunteers lend skills, generosity to refugee initiative
By: Will Sloan
March 10, 2016
Abdallah family

Photo: The Ripple Refugee Project, one of many Ryerson-sponsorship teams, brought the Abdallah family to Toronto in November.

Since launching in July 2015, the Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge has raised $3 million and created 75 sponsoring teams to resettle 75 Syrian refugee families – 300 individuals in total. It takes a village to resettle that many families, and people from across the Ryerson community are volunteering their time and knowledge to welcome the new Canadians.

Jaimie Dufresne, a PhD candidate in molecular science, is one of 17 members of the external,Ripple Refugee Project, one of numerous Ryerson-sponsored teams bringing families to Canada. Dufresne has helped raise funds, find supplies for the 10-person Abdallah family, who arrived in Toronto in November. “The fewer people there are in desperate situation, the safer the world becomes,” said Dufresne. “I just don’t understand the argument to build walls around what you think is your homogeneous society, which is not anyway.”

In addition to raising funds, Dufresne has helped the family find clothes and furniture, and is now working with them to arrange English classes and employment opportunities. “I went to Russia a couple of years ago for a conference, and I know how difficult it is trying to get around on the subway when you don’t know the alphabet. It’s incredibly challenging, and there’s a stress that comes along with that. But they’re really very resilient and positive, and so thankful.”

Sana Adi is one of several Ryerson Master’s of Public Policy students who have volunteered to draft a curriculum and provide Canadian Government 101 seminars for refugee families. “What we really wanted to emphasize in civic education is the multicultural society,” said Adi.

“As someone with public policy background, I think a civic education for everyone is very important. I felt like I could help in some ways with teaching that kind of content and making it more digestible, because it can sometimes get a little bit complicated if you don’t know where to start. Also, I am a Syrian Canadian, so I have ties to that community.”

Enactus Ryerson has created banking and financial literacy modules to help newcomers, which are currently being translated into Arabic. “When Lifeline Syria approached us, they found there were two things we did really well: financial literacy and entrepreneurship,” said Enactus project manager Samad Nasim. “We wanted to give back to the community. Knowing all the things that have happened in Syria, we wanted to help in any way possible.”

Enactus has reached out to Canadian banks for information on newcomer banking packages, and have agreed to help with in-person math tutoring. “We’re going to be doing a lot of things that create a direct impact,” said Nasim. “With our projects, we’re less concerned about numbers and more concerned about the impact that we have had on a person’s life.”

The Lifeline Syria Challenge is a collaborative enterprise between Ryerson, OCAD University, University of Toronto and York University to respond to the Syrian humanitarian crisis. The volunteer program offers a once-in-a-lifetime experiential learning opportunity for students, andis actively seeking members and donations.

“I think back on my time at Ryerson and it’s one of the most important things I ever did,” said Jaimie Dufresne. “A lot of people think, ‘Okay, this is going to cost a lot of time,’ but you just get so much out of it.”

To learn more about the Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge, go to http://www.ryerson.ca/lifelinesyria/index.html. To read about one of the sponsored families, go to http://www.ryerson.ca/news/news/General_Public/20160218-theres-no-better-than-this-for-resettled-syrian-family.html.