We all saw the news clips – from heart-stopping marine rescues near Turkey, to Justin Trudeau handing out winter coats to our new friends from Syria. But sometimes, apart from handing over money to large organizations, Canadians don’t know exactly what they can do to help. We’re super-nice after all, and we wouldn’t want to offend, but we also want to be welcoming.
My friend and talented colleague Emma Waverman was part of a group of 20 families in Ontario who were among the first to support a refugee family. Her article in Today’s Parent on her sponsorship journey is remarkable. What really resonated for me was this:
“Everyone has something to offer, whether it’s their time, money, or job connections. Our group is made up of people with a wide range of skills. They’re all teachers, lawyers, doctors, stay-at-home moms and fashion consultants. Our group of 20 families feels like it’s our turn to help try to make the world a better place.”
Often as parents seemingly strapped for time and money, we don’t always place value on the gifts we can easily give. From a smile in the grocery store line, to a welcoming trip to the airport, there are many ways that we can support refugees. It really does take a village. I am so very proud of our communities at the moment, with churches hosting dinners, schools launching fundraisers and community centres collecting donations.
Our own little village, with only one Syrian family so far, is coming together as I have not seen before. Emails from schools have been sent collecting specific items and supplies for our new community members. But what can we do if we aren’t getting the emails or don’t have connections who sponsored a family?
One of the best ways is to read your local community papers, and follow social media in your neighbourhood. Churches have been hosting welcome dinners for families, and local refugee agencies are always posting about what families may need that you can donate. One of the kindest and most welcoming gestures is to have your kids write a letter.
Many large companies are showing their corporate responsibility by helping. I’m proud to have worked with Procter & Gamble over the years and was thrilled to hear that through Brands for Canada (BFC) and its partner, Lifeline Syria, P&G is donating everyday household and personal care products to Syrian refugees to help ease the transition as they make Canada their new home. Syrian refugee families, referred by settlement agencies are being provided with new brand-name coats, clothing, and household and personal care items such as Tide, Pantene, Pampers and Crest. Similar efforts will be coordinated for Syrian refugee families arriving across Canada.
But you don’t have to be a huge company to help. In one city, Instagrammer Jaymi Sharon launched the #FindFiveThings campaign, asking people to drop off 5 items at their local refugee shelter. “We all have too much stuff, so the idea, is to give what you already own. Start small, pick a room, and then just #findfivethings …Easy, right!?! Now, go find five more!! Personally, I’ll be going through my clothes next, seasonally appropriate of course…ooh, then my winter accessories… I’m on a roll now!!” The program was so successful that shelters had to stop accepting the influx of items!
Kids can sort through toys and books, host lemonade stands and put care packages together for boys and girls their own age. Physical items that have been requested through many schools are USB sticks, backpacks, school supplies, calculators and duotangs. Imagine gifting a new Canadian their first pair of skates along with a personal lesson at a local rink! One Canadian school formed a lunchtime club to knit winter hats. I asked Janet Hicks, Primary Years Program Coordinator at West Bay IB World School in British Columbia how it started and her answer warmed my heart. No act – and no child – is ever too small to make a difference.
“One of Jessica Eguia’s Grade 5 students heard about the refugee situation on the news. He wanted to do something to welcome refugees to Canada in a “warm” and welcoming way. It was winter and he was inspired to start a toque knitting club. With the support of his mom and peers, the students knit 30 toques three times a week during lunch. The student made a connection with a local organization and delivered the toques. All of the students felt proud of their new knitting skills and doing their part to make this a caring and kind world.”
All Canadians can help welcome Syrian refugees. You can help make a difference in their lives in a number of different ways – small and large. Get involved! The Canadian government has a great resource online here. To find out more about how to help, call 1-844-61 SYRIA (1-844-617-9742, TTY: 1-800-465-7735).
Many refugees are in need of professionals, and if you are trained in dentistry, medicine, counselling, or are looking for employees you could make a huge contribution.
There are many refugees in camps who are still awaiting placement, and Unicef Canada is selling Survival Gifts – they range in price from $10 Measles Prevention Kits to $24 to reunite a child with their family or $40 for prenatal vitamins and healthcare for expectant mothers. Sounds like a better option than plastic toys for birthday goody bags, doesn’t it?
For donations of money, the following is a list of some of the larger organizations lending a helping hand.
The UNHCR coordinates UN refugee responses, including support for host countries providing assistance for Syrian refugees.
The IOM is an intergovernmental organization which provides services and support to governments and migrants.
The United Nations Children’s Fund is a child-focused humanitarian organization operating in 192 countries, including Syria.
Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières, operates medical facilities inside Syria and supports more than 100 clinics, health posts and field hospitals in the country.
Oxfam is an international confederation of 17 organizations working around the world to find solutions to poverty and support human rights.
The World Food Programme is the food assistance branch of the United Nations.
MOA consists of humanitarians, security professionals, medical staff and maritime officers working to prevent further refugee crisis at sea.
Amnesty International is a non-governmental organization with a focus on human rights.
Part of the international humanitarian organization Red Cross/Red Crescent, the Canadian Red Cross is helping to support the efforts of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in Syria.
The non-profit charitable organization provides food, water and shelter to more than 500,000 Syrian refugees in the Middle East.
Also, groups of five or more Canadian citizens or permanent residents over 18 years of age can also sponsor one or more refugees to come to Canada and settle in their area. Sponsorship includes support for housing, food, emotional adjustment and clothing.
Good luck, and comment below to let us know how you are opening your hearts and your Country to those in need!