Almost a year, and ready for another sponsorship …

Wow, does time ever fly!  We are into our 10th month of our sponsorship of “A”, the 20 year-old refugee from Iraq.  Things are going very well for him. He’s been going to school since last September at the Central Toronto Academy, a regular TDSB high school in Little Italy. He’s doing very well, and his English has improved dramatically.  A has a part-time job at a high-end dinner/jazz club in the city, which he enjoys very much.  He fills his spare time with homework, going to the West End YMCA, helping with the monthly dinners that St. Thomas’ Huron Street puts on for the under-housed and under-employed, and spending time with friends, as well as the occasional lunch or dinner with some of the sponsorship committee members. In short, it has been a wonderful experience for everyone involved.

We have decided that we are going to extend our support for “A” beyond the required and usual one year that privately-sponsored refugees are given. Even though he is doing very well in school, he does need more time to bring his English up to the Grade 12 level required for graduation.  This isn’t a process that can be rushed; he needs to work through the ESL levels one by one, and then he needs to complete the required high school English classes.  It was important to us that “A” successfully complete his high school education … it just didn’t seem right to cut him off before he reached this milestone. After he gets his diploma, he will have the same options any high-school grad in Ontario has … he will be able to apply to college or university, if he wants to, taking advantage to funding programs offered by the province.  Or if he wants to go directly into the workforce, he can do so with his diploma under his belt.

In the meantime, the sponsorship committee has also been moving forward with preparations to welcome another refugee family.  When we agreed to sponsor “A” last summer, we told AURA that we would want to apply for another family once we had “A” well settled into his life here in Toronto.  We have submitted our application to take on another refugee case; this time, we are hoping that we will be matched with a larger family.  We aren’t sure how long it will be before we are matched to a family … the government’s resettlement targets have changed this year, and the number of families being brought in under the Blended Visa-Office Referral (BVOR) program is significantly smaller that it was last year. Nevertheless, we are hopeful that we’ll have some good news to share with you before the summer is finished.

Thanks for your continued support!

The first two months 

The young man who came to us from Iraq (via Jordan) in June has had an eventful summer – discovering a new city and a new country, learning a new language and a new alphabet, new currency, figuring out the TTC and mastering how to order at Tim Horton’s among many other things. 

He is charming and motivated and loves the neighbourhood. Introducing him to the pleasures of Toronto in summer has made us see the city with fresh eyes and appreciate how fortunate we are to live here.

Learning English is his first priority. He began lessons in basic English with TDSB two weeks after his arrival and then took a month-long intensive course at U of T. With diligence and a LOT of homework he has advanced quickly and is now a Grade 12 student at a high school at the Central Toronto Academy on Shaw St.

This is a major accomplishment given that three months ago he had only a few words of English and that his formal education stopped over 2 years ago when he became a refugee.

For most of the summer, A.  lived in a lovely studio apartment in a coach house in the Annex. We are now looking for accommodations for the next year. 

Like many groups across the country, we are still waiting to be assigned a larger family of refugees. We look forward to welcoming them, and are so glad that with the generosity of our donors, we are also helping this young man build a new life in Canada.

The first 24 hours

So our young refugee (I’ll call him A.) arrived last night after a VERY long trip from Amman. He was in good spirits though, and after enduring a seemingly endless trip from the airport to his temporary home in The Annex, we managed to feed him and get him set up with a telephone and internet access.  (Shout out to Alberta and Elizabeth C. for the fabulous job stocking the apartment, and getting it set up for A’s arrival!)  He was able to call home and speak with his family, which was important.   We also did a very basic orientation, and provided contact information for committee members should he need it.  We then left him to get some rest.

Elizabeth S. and I met him this morning, and we went to Aroma for breakfast. After a few false starts with Google Translate, we managed to get into a fairly easy pattern of communicating by either typing or speaking English phrases and having them translated into Arabic (and vice versa).  While not perfect, the technology is amazing, and I couldn’t imagine doing this  work  without it, unless we had a full-time translator, that is.  (And while I mention translation, many, many thanks to Ghuna B., a Ph. D student at Osgoode Hall and native speaker of Arabic who met us at the airport yesterday, and drove into town with us to help get A set up in his bachelor pad. Her help during the first few hours was invaluable.)

We then went shopping for a few necessities at Dollarama and Honest Ed’s, picked up an adapter so that he could charge his mobile phone, and found him a pair of smart sandals at Aldo.  Then a quiet coffee at Peter Pan, and home so he could rest up a bit.  Tonight he is meeting the owners of the coach house flat he is staying in … they have an Arabic-speaking friend that is coming over to make the conversation flow a little more easily.

The next few days involve a lot of administrative stuff: registering for OHIP, a language skills assessment, etc.

Now, it’s early days … (hours, really), but I have a very good feeling about how this sponsorship will go.  A. is a charming, motivated, and confident young man. He smiles easily, and looks you right in the eye when he talks to you.  He is very eager to begin his English classes, and he has his sights on university in the not-too-distant future.  He said that one of the reasons he made the move to Canada (we didn’t get into the nitty gritty of it … we don’t know why he is a refugee, and we didn’t press him on the matter.) was to “improve himself”.  My feeling is that he has gumption and courage, and with the right support, will become a text-book example of why it is so important that we offer refugees a chance here in Canada.

To protect A’s privacy, we won’t be providing a lot of detail about him or his progress toward his goals.  If you are curious, drop me a line, and I can fill you in if it is appropriate to do so.  But suffice it to say that I, personally, am thrilled to have the chance to help this young person get a leg up in Canada.

I would also like to take this chance to thank the many supporters who have helped us get this far … those who have donated money, time, treasure and talent. In particular, I – and I think I speak on behalf of our committee –  am very grateful to the lovely couple who have offered A. a quite, private, and charming place to live on a lovely street in The Annex.    We had very little notice of his arrival, and we (luckily) had not rented an apartment that sat empty for several months since making our initial application.  Being able to give him a safe and comfortable place on such short notice has been a tremendous help, and allows us to move more quickly on the more complicated matters related to resettlement. Indeed, we had several generous offers of accommodation, but in the end, we chose this one because of its proximity to members of our committee … thanks to all who offered help with this most critical of resettlement tasks.

As always, thanks for your support and good wishes …

Allan

 

 

We have been assigned our first refugee!

In March,  we were contacted by AURA to ask whether, while we continue to wait to be matched with a large refugee family, we would be willing to sponsor a single person already on the list awaiting sponsorship.  The MURP group agreed unanimously that we are able to help both the single person and a subsequent family, and so we enthusiastically accepted the matching offer. Since then, we have been continuing our fundraising efforts and waiting for information about either of our sponsorships.

Last week, we received notification that our first refugee, a young man traveling from Jordan,  will be arriving on June the 22nd. He was referred by the United Nations Refugee Agency and vetted by Canadian officials in the Middle East. The Federal Government will assist us in supporting him financially for six months of his first year in Canada. We are excited about this news, and we look forward to welcoming him, to getting to know him in the coming weeks and to introducing him to the community. 
 
We anticipate our second sponsorship, of a large family, to occur in the fall or winter. We will continue to provide updates as we learn more.
 
Thank you so much for your support over the last several months–because of you, we are able to provide this assistance to more than one group.

Silent Auction a Roaring Success!

We’ve just recently got the numbers back from our treasurer, and it’s official: the MURP Silent Auction was a huge success. Between ticket sales and bids for items, we raised well over $8000 in one evening!

In addition to being able to bid on wonderful prizes, attendees spent the evening enjoying wonderful food courtesy of The Cheese Boutique and Campagnolo,sampling French and Italian wines, local brews courtesy of the Bellwood Brewery, and live music.

Thanks to everyone who made the evening a success, including the many volunteers who helped out with pouring wine, preparing and laying out food, accepting payments, entertainment and security.

Art treasure discovered in church basement will be sold at silent auction next week

Organizing a silent auction and wine tasting for the Manning Ulster Refugee Project, we discovered treasure tucked behind an old desk in the warden’s office at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene and solved a mystery.

For longer than anyone could remember, there had been a stack of framed art gathering dust in the office. No one knew who donated it many years ago, apparently for a sale or event that didn’t seem to have happened.

The background of committee member Alberta Nokes is in art history and when we pulled out the desk, she immediately saw that there were some exceptional things. First, a large, original stone lithograph, beautifully printed, an artist’s proof by Jack Nichols of an enigmatic dark angelic figure. According to Ms. Nokes, Nichols is among the most significant Canadian artists of the 20th century. He was an official war artist for Canada, a two time Guggenheim fellow and his lithos represented Canada in the 1958 Venice Biennale. Nichols’s work is unique in its emphasis on the human experience in war. The blackness of his medium and the haunting, timeless, atmospheric quality of works like “Dark Angel” grew out of his war experience.

Jack Nichols Dark Angel.jpg

Jack Nichols’ “Dark Angel”

We discovered that the Nichols and several other pieces including a 5 exquisitely framed hand-coloured etchings from the time of Jane Austen – 1805 to 1817, came from Budd Sugarman. Mr. Sugarman, for whom the park just to the east of the Rosedale Subway station is named was a civic activist and philanthropist who was instrumental preserving what was known as the village of Yorkville and creating the Village of Yorkville Park. He was an internationally known interior designer, operating “Hazelton House Prints”, an international company specializing in hand blocked printed fabric, from his shop on Hazelton Ave for more than 4 decades. There is a sculpted relief at the church dedicated in honour of Budd Sugarman and Gordon Johnson so he must have had a strong connection with the Church.

We think he’d be very pleased that the donation he made so long ago is helping now to re-settle refugees in Toronto. The Nichols has a value of $1,600, bidding starts at $160. The 19th century engravings are valued at $250 to $300 each and bidding sarts at 20.

So join us on May 3rd, at SMM for an evening of wine, food, entertainment and a silent auction of fabulous items!