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Volunteers wanted to help a new Syrian refugee family

'The culture shock can be very difficult for people,' says local Imam
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Local Imam and volunteer Saber Alkilani prays before a service at the local mosque. Alkilani said that, since the wave of refugees coming over the last year, the mosque is now mostly made up of Syrian refugees, most of whom he knows well. He said that all of these families benefit greatly from locals who volunteer with them. Jeff Klassen/SooToday

A new refugee family is coming to Sault Ste. Marie and the Sault Community Career Centre is looking for volunteers to welcome them and help them out while they’re here.

The family is a Syrian couple in their 30s and they are coming to Canada by way of Jordan on August 31.

Over the last year, the career center has helped 19 government-sponsored refugee families and six families sponsored by churches and community groups.

Volunteer coordinator Brenda Cooper said the career centre is usually not given much notice before families arrive so arranging a group of volunteers to look after the family is often done on short notice.

“We need some people that are willing to meet with them at the airport and visit them at the hotel and after they get into their permanent housing," said Cooper." They can also show them around the city, help them do grocery shopping, and go to doctors appointments and important and things like that.”

Cooper said that, actually, being a friend to a new family is what’s needed the most.

“Part of the thing about being volunteers is you’re giving them a small social circle, and as the months go by, they meet more people through that, and they become more and more established. It’s all about getting them set up in a social circle in the city,” she said. "It can be very lonely coming to a new city.”

Saber Alkilani is the Imam for the local mosque and has himself been a volunteer the new refugees in the city, most of whom are refugees from Syria.

Because of this new influx, Alkalani said the mosque’s demographic has shifted from being mostly made up of people associated with Algoma University to being made up of around 80-90 per cent Syrian refugees.

“The mosque appreciates all the volunteers. They help us a lot. The main thing is to help introduce them to this new world. The culture shock can be very difficult for people,” he said.

Alaa Oughil, 21, is a refugee who first came to the Sault from Syria in October 2016.

At that time there weren’t any volunteers available to help him out.

Most of the new refugees are Muslim and sometimes have to travel far across town to go to grocery stores that carry halal food (food that follows a set of guidelines defined by the Qur'an).

When a volunteer came around two months later, he was very grateful.

“It can be difficult. In the winter it can be hard to get around, especially carrying heavy grocery bags around in the snow,” he said.

Housain Hamaza, 66, is a refugee that came from Syria through Egypt in November 2016.

“The volunteers have been excellent,” said Hamaza, with the help of a translator. “They’ve helped teach us English and have taken me to the market. I appreciate that. Without them it would be hard for us. Some of us come with only the clothes we’re wearing.”

Anyone who wants to volunteer should email brenda.cooper@saultcareercentre.ca

The career centre also puts together starter kits that include personal hygiene items, enough food to make a few nights worth of meals, kitchen items, furniture, and other items.

People who have items to donate are encouraged to do so, but Cooper requests that they contact her first and don’t donate broken items or ones they aren’t specifically looking for since storage space and ability to dispose of items is limited.

A tentative volunteer orientation date is set for August 24.

The following is a news release issued by the Sault Community Career Centre:

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Since the beginning of last summer, the Sault Community Career Centre (SCCC) has welcomed 19 refugee families under the federal government’s Resettlement Assistance Program (RAP). The success of the program locally can be largely attributed to the many volunteers who have worked to provide a warm welcome, donate much-needed supplies like food and clothing, and offer additional supports like transportation and language lessons.

For the past couple of months, a group of Sault and area volunteers has been at work preparing for a young family of 5 whose arrival date has not yet been determined.

After receiving news of another young couple arriving on August 31, the SCCC has begun looking for one more group of volunteers to participate in this rewarding work.

As a volunteer, your role in helping refugee families’ transition into our community will be to provide friendship and assistance with the everyday tasks of Canadian life. You may help gather household items like towels and blankets, provide transportation to places like the grocery store or the bank (until they are familiar with the bus system), visit the families in their homes, and accompany them to welcome events.

The SCCC is looking for a group of at least 5 people to volunteer to work with the incoming family. If you are interested in participating or have any questions about volunteering, please contact Brenda Cooper at brenda.cooper@saultcareercentre.ca for an information package. An orientation session for people who want to volunteer will be held at the SCCC. The tentative date is August 24 at 6:30 p.m.



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Jeff Klassen

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Jeff Klassen is a SooToday staff reporter who is always looking for an interesting story
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