Since November 2015, Canadians have opened our hearts and homes to welcome over 40,000 Syrian refugees fleeing conflict. This World Refugee Day, as we recognize the strength, courage and resilience of the millions of refugees worldwide making challenging journeys, we acknowledge our close to 200 staff who have worked and continue to work tirelessly in their different roles to support newcomers, including the recently-arrived Syrian refugees.

We invited a few of our staff to share their experience working with Syrian refugee clients. Hear what they have to say:

Sana Al Najjar, Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) Instructor

The most challenging part of my job is keeping the students focused. They’ve left families behind, financial problems add to their stress and their mental well-being is under threat. In planning my classes, I always try to think about the needs of my students. I try to make my lessons funny in order to make them forget the tragedies and traumas. Of course they won’t forget, but at least they can concentrate and focus on something else for a little while. I don’t talk to them in Arabic because I want them to try and speak to me in English. I try and relate the class content to their lives in Canada – how to write cheques, how to buy groceries, how to make appointments, how to talk politely and other topics. I also try and make my classes interactive and hands-on, to engage them and make them interested in the content they learn.

My hope for my students is that they will be comfortable taking risks and tackling challenges as they learn and grow; that they are happy and successful.  I am very optimistic and I believe that they will integrate. They are hard workers and want to succeed and find jobs. They want to be able to make better lives for their children.

Ekaterina Pak, Manager, Refugee Sponsorship Training Program

My role is to coordinate the work of Refugee Sponsorship Training Program (RSTP) trainers in different parts of Canada. Our job is to make it easier for private sponsors to engage in the private sponsorship program – that means guiding sponsors throughout the application process, helping with case-specific inquiries, and supporting sponsors with understanding their role and responsibilities during the post-arrival stage of settlement and integration.

Behind every sponsorship application, there is an individual or a family in need of a durable solution. To me this means that the better I do my job preparing sponsors for this process, explaining eligibility criteria, helping with their application package – the better are the chances of this individual or a family to be sponsored to Canada. At least that is my hope. And the closer I work with sponsorship groups clarifying their role as sponsors during the settlement, providing information about settlement services available for newcomers, explaining the importance of ethical considerations in sponsorship, and advising on management of expectations – the higher the chances of a successful and positive sponsorship experience for sponsors and sponsored newcomers.

I find myself inspired almost on a daily basis. I am inspired by the dedicated sponsors who are committed to supporting refugees despite the challenges that they sometimes face; inspired by my colleagues who approach their daily responsibilities with enthusiasm and utmost devotion; and most importantly, I am inspired by the stories of sponsored refugees who arrive to Canada having fled their homes and endured numerous hardships en route, and who have to rebuild their lives from scratch. These stories are powerful; they are unique, and they motivate me every day in my professional life and beyond.

Rakan Alkhattabi, Settlement Worker, SEPT Program

I am located at different schools throughout Scarborough to help newcomers (students and their families) adjust to their new schools and communities. I see mostly Syrian families and Syrian youth in a school setting. In my job, I get to guide people in a variety of ways to ensure that they get the support they need. A lot of Syrian youth are having academic challenges and they haven’t been in school for a while. It takes time to adjust to the school system. I explain to the kids (ages 14-21) about the school system, work with the teachers and school staff to help them understand the youth and deliver workshops to the students to better understand school system. With families, it’s mostly language and employment support. It could be helping them with referrals for English classes, legal services, tax benefits, health services or refugee sponsorship; helping them understand the Canadian culture or their rights; or helping families register for school, explaining the school system. I answer and explain a range of different questions. If they want to legal advice or community support or to register for classes, or mental health support, I help them make connections. They have easy access to me because I am located in a school.

I believe that these kids deserve a home, they deserve a life, they’ve been through so much – a lot of stories they tell me about their lives in refugee camps and what they have gone through is horrific. To see them now in schools, engaging and being active makes me so happy. They don’t deserve anything less.

Asmaa Abdulraheem, Settlement Worker

Settlement worker with clientsBeing a newcomer is hard for every immigrant in terms of getting to know the Canadian system, finding a place to live, finding a job…for many Syrian refugees in addition to all the above, there are serious language barriers in addition to the fact that these people were forced to leave their homes and simple lifestyles they used to love, which makes it even more challenging.

My role at CCS is to guide newcomers so they get to know the Canadian system, advocate on behalf of clients when there are language barriers, empower clients by teaching them how to navigate the system and how to stand up for themselves by understanding their rights and responsibilities. What I find inspiring about my work is my belief that what I do helps vulnerable people. I believe people trust me because they can sense that and because of my expertise. They know I am doing my best.