Members of the Syrian Refugees Support Group in Calgary Saima Jamal
21 June 2017 | Shenaz Kermalli | Independent
Dalia, 7, bursts into singing her ABC’s whenever I arrive at her apartment. “How are you, Dalia?” I ask her in the midst of her rendition. “Good!” she responds confidently.
“How’s school?” I continue.
“Good,” she repeats. But she’s done with conversation. She grabs my hand and pulls me into her small bedroom, saying: “Come! Come!”
Her two younger brothers follow us. Chaos ensues. We play catch and monkey-in-the-middle. Then she pulls me to the floor to play with her dolls. None of the kids can speak much more English, but it doesn’t really matter. Through giggles, wild hand gestures and some quirky facial expressions, we get by.
It’s different with her parents. When Ahmad and Sanaa arrived in Toronto just two months ago from Syria, they didn’t know a word of English. Through weekly publicly-funded language classes, they’re learning slowly, and showing tremendous progress. But it can still be hard to get a conversation going without reaching for the Google Translate app. Or resorting to miming. And quirky facial expressions.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared two years ago that Canada would take in 25,000 government-funded refugees, and encouraged private sponsors to bring in more, many Canadians were elated.
Individuals, community groups, libraries, medical facilities and schools across the country began preparing to resettle thousands of newcomers. Not since 1979, when 60,000 refugees fleeing Vietnam were settled in Canada within a two-year period, have we witnessed anything like the current mobilisation of public and private resources in response to a global crisis.
Research has shown that citizen-sponsored refugees tend to settle more quickly than other refugees, and that they make a positive impact on the economy.
So my family’s decision to sponsor a family from Syria – along with nine other families we knew – wasn’t a difficult one. Ahmad, Sanaa, Dalia, Taha and Nadir essentially became our responsibility.
We found and furnished an apartment for them, close to other Syrian newcomers, that was within walking distance of a school, a grocery store, a park, a community centre and public transport.
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