What kind of volunteer work have you done for Together Project?
Two years ago, I was the Group Lead for a Welcome Group assigned to a Syrian family who had just arrived in Canada. In this role, I was responsible for bringing our Welcome Group together to plan home visits, pre-plan activities for both the parents and children, and ensure that there was a consistent and clear line of communication between the family and our Welcome Group.
Every volunteer in our Welcome Group brought something unique to help in our task. One of our volunteers was originally a newcomer himself who received support through the Welcome Group program. It was truly heartwarming to watch him share similar stories and give advice on how his family worked with their Welcome Group to integrate into Canadian culture. In terms of what I brought to the Group, I helped bridge the language barrier with my fluency in Arabic. I was able to support the family with a variety of tasks. This included translating letters from the children’s school, scheduling medical appointments, practicing English with the children and more.
Why did you decide to volunteer to help out a newcomer family?
I have always been very passionate about giving back. My first experience was with a newcomer family in Canada five years ago, during my practicum placement in a school in Toronto. I was introduced to two teenage girls who had just moved to Toronto from Syria. As I watched the school struggle to create a clear line of communication with the two girls, I naturally stepped up as an Arabic interpreter to help both the girls and the school.
I developed a strong relationship with the girls and continued to support their family, even after completing my practicum placement. This experience made me realize the way in which I could support families as they adjust to their new Canadian life. I began to look for similar opportunities to give back and the Welcome Group Program has allowed me to do that.
What did you hope to accomplish through your efforts?
Refugee families are sadly forced to leave their home countries and adapt to an entirely new culture. The transition from Syria to Canada is not an easy one. For starters, the Arab culture is very focused on community support. Even for myself, as a Jordanian, I grew up surrounded by neighbors and friends who were my second family. I imagined how hard it would be to make such a large, life transition without the support of a community. Secondly, the language barrier can make it difficult for these families to adapt and build meaningful ties. With all of this in mind, I felt it was very important for me to help newcomers rebuild their sense of community here in Toronto.
How have you helped build more welcoming communities?
With my academic background in education, I have always been very passionate about working with young people. My personal mission is to ensure young people are aware of the impact they can make by volunteering or doing something as simple as befriending someone in school from a different country. My experience with the Welcome Group has allowed me to experience firsthand how support, communication and kindness can truly change someone’s experience and give them the determination to rebuild their lives.
Is there anything you would like to share with people who are thinking about getting involved?
It is easy to get lost in daily routines and feel as though you do not have the time or sufficient resources to give back. This experience has truly taught me that making an impact is not a “one size fits all” approach. Your impact can be as big or small as you want it to be – from immersing yourself in social service trips to sending a simple donation. You can even follow my amazing experience and join a Welcome Group and dedicate time to connect with a remarkably brave family who have left their lives and loved ones to seek refuge.
During my time with the Welcome Group, I started off thinking about the impact I hoped to make on the lives of this newcomer family. What I did not expect was how my life was about to be transformed after getting to know this incredibly intelligent, brave and compassionate family in return. This has been one of the most inspirational experiences I have ever been a part of. I truly encourage everyone to volunteer their time because if you come into it with an open heart and an open mind, you will truly receive as much as you give.