What is your role at Together Project?
My role is to help an organization called Kids UP Front distribute donated tickets to the Together Project community. These tickets could be for theatre, sports events, music concerts, or even museum passes. The whole idea is to distribute the tickets to children and families who aren’t typically exposed to these events and can’t afford to go. Soccer and basketball are a big attraction for the newcomer community. Many newcomers live in the outer suburbs so it can be tricky for them to get into the city. It would be nice if more people took advantage of these opportunities but we are trying new approaches to ensure people can access these tickets. The Together Project has also “paired” me with a couple of Syrian families in order to offer friendship. And I am part of a group that sponsored a Syrian Family to come to Canada.
How long have you been a sponsor?
It took two years for the family we sponsored to arrive and they have now been here for a couple of years, so I’ve been involved for about 4 years.
Does the family you sponsored take part in Together Project? Do they attend any events?
Not the family we sponsored but the other families I am involved with, yes.
Why did you decide to volunteer with the Together Project?
I have known one of the founders for a while; we both work in the production industry. She was aware that our family had not arrived so asked if we would be interested in meeting other Syrians while we waited. I thought it sounded like a wonderful opportunity. It was a win-win for all of us. I had a great time just being a friend and showing them around Toronto. The ticket distribution is just another easy way to help.
Do you feel like it’s been a fulfilling experience? Have you gained anything from working with the families?
Yes, it’s been 100% fulfilling and then some. We were introduced to Khaled, a 21 year old who arrived completely on his own. We really dove into his life and have become lifelong friends. We also have been involved with a handicapped woman and her husband—they’re in their 70s and had no Canadian support beyond the government. Sometimes we would visit their apartment; other times we would take them out. They really wanted to go to Niagara Falls so we made that happen, which was a special day. I believe the most important thing I have gained was really understanding the love they have for their country and their culture and how much they miss it. I think we tend to think that new immigrants fully embrace Canada and this new modern life. And they do appreciate all Canada has to offer but their hearts remain in their own countries. They don’t want to lose their identity. And it’s certainly nice to see how they blend the two cultures.
Do you think the social aspect of working with these families has any impact on them?
Yes, yes, yes! We can see it in their eyes and their smiles when get together. Even the children love socializing and playing with us when we visit. They have thanked us over and over again. Shukraan!
In doing all this what do you hope to accomplish through your efforts?
Offering friendship to new immigrants is rewarding both to them and to me. It feels good to be helpful and make friends with people that are from such a different culture. I just want to continue to be friends with these newcomers and help when I can. The Together Project is such a great outlet for this.
Is there anything you think a prospective volunteer should know?
First, do not hesitate to jump in but don’t expect the newcomers to drop their culture to become Canadian and start eating hamburgers! Just being in Canada makes them want to preserve their culture even more. It is very gratifying to help people and at the same time, it broadens your mind.
Interview by Indira Monteiro