The Newcomer Welcome & Orientation Social Event for Syrian Refugees held at ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) Canada in Mississauga on Sunday, January 17th, 2016 was a huge success. Community members gathered to welcome over 200 Syrian refugees as a first step at integration into Canadian society. The social was organized by the ISNA SNOW (Syrian Newcomer Orientation Workforce), which is a group of ISNA members and volunteers joining forces, reaching out, and providing assistance to Syrian newcomers. The event was also attended by MPP Iqra Khalid and Dr. Aliya Khan, a Clinical Professor in the Department of Medicine at McMaster University.
The event began with a Quran recitation by Br. Hummaiz, an ISNA High School student, followed by welcoming remarks by ISNA Canada’s Director of Operations, Sr. Seema Khan, after which Sr. Maisa Altarawneh, the ISNA High School Guidance Counsellor, addressed the congregation in Arabic. Dr. Aliya Khan from Canadians in Support of Refugees in Dire Need (CSRDN) shared what her organization has accomplished to date, particularly assisting in the arrival of newcomers to Canada and facilitating the smooth integration into our society. MPP Iqra Khalid then emphasized her party’s avid belief in building strong communities, giving back to society, and reaffirming the Liberal Party’s commitment to assist in whichever way possible. The whole country would like to applaud Prime Minister Trudeau’s effort in diligently and relentlessly trying to help Syrians displaced from their homes by the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.
In an effort to make the newcomers feel at home, delicious Arabian cuisine was served for lunch. During this time, Arabic-speaking and non-Arabic-speaking volunteers assisted the guests to complete registration forms; forms which would help create a database for the SNOW buddy system whereby volunteer families team up with Syrian families in order to lend a helping hand. Through Facebook and WhatsApp, most newcomers were able to communicate to the volunteers their contact information in English, which helped tremendously. In the confusion of mostly Arabic-speaking people, one English-speaking volunteer went to a gentleman seated at one of the tables and asked him “Ma-asmaka?” one of the few Arabic words she knew as she was trying to get his name for the registration form. The man shook his head and said, “Sorry, I only speak English!” This was a welcomed surprise and reminder for us to check our assumptions at the door!
After a lovely meal, everyone got down to serious business. The SNOW Committee teams had set up along the perimeters of the room and the newcomers lined up for the various aids being offered or to gain more information on housing, supplies, and job opportunities. The Clothing & Furniture Team was giving out pamphlets for the Refugees Welcome Donation Centre, inviting Syrian newcomers to receive donations of clothing, household goods, toys and toiletries. What’s more, each family was offered one laptop. Service Canada was also present, ensuring that the newcomers had all the necessary documentation required for employment in this country. The Volunteers Team gathered the completed forms which indicated what kind of help and support the newcomers would like to see from the Islamic community to ease their transition to Canada.
At another table, the ISNA Food Bank Team distributed pamphlets with information about their program. Every first Saturday of the month from 8.00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. (Noon), the food bank provides families in need with a food basket that includes halal meat, eggs, flour, bread, rice and oil. The mammoth task however fell on the Housing Team, who was bombarded with questions and requests for help. Many newcomers were on their third week in Canada and after one more week they would no longer be housed at the hotel where they were currently staying. Although many organizations are offering assistance, it is still proving difficult to find lodging for families of seven to ten or more people. The Housing Volunteers rose to the challenge and diligently promised to do their best to help address the urgency of the situation.
The Job Support/Job Fair Team was also overwhelmed with questions and people lining up for its table. Newcomers wanted to know what they could expect in terms of employment and what the first steps would be towards earning a salary. Initially, the majority of newcomers would have to be taught English, without which it is almost impossible to land a job in Canada. The ISNA SNOW Committee is allocating some of its resources, like use of classrooms and staff, to teaching Syrian newcomers English. The goal of the social was to welcome our Syrian newcomers and make relevant resources easily accessible to them. The organization’s goal is to ensure that at the end of their first year in Canada, newcomers would have been given the necessary tools and support required for them to function efficiently in Canadian society.
As the event neared its end, the congregation listened to a du’a (Muslim prayer) from Shaykh AbdulAziz Rasoul, the ISNA High School Principal, before lining up for parting gifts for the kids. As they boarded their buses to return to their hotel, the adults had hopeful expressions on their faces with revived spirits knowing that they were not alone and could reach out for help. The kids held tightly to their gift bags and loudly called out to their friends, secure in the knowledge that they would be happy and safe in this new land.
ISNA Canada is honored to have been able to welcome the new members of our Canadian family and we look forward to continuing to provide relevant resources to anyone in need.