How did you hear about the Together Project?
I was researching what I could do to support Syrian refugees because of that particular crisis, and I happened upon an article in the Toronto Star that featured the Together Project and I thought this is perfect. I liked how you don’t have to sponsor a family privately because that’s out of reach for a lot of people.
It can feel very overwhelming when you hear negative news. It’s easy to think you can’t do anything about it. But you can do small things and small things can make big changes. Thinking globally and acting locally is, I think, the best way that people can make change.
What areas of support did your Welcome Group and newcomer family decide to work on throughout your time together?
Language was certainly the biggest thing. When we hung out with them, we used flashcards and the internet to teach words using pictures. The family had three young kids, so it was especially useful to turn learning English into a game. We also prioritized getting the kids registered for school, made sure they had a family doctor and dentist, we got them all library cards and showed them how to use the public library.
What sort of activities does your Welcome Group and newcomer family do together?
We love doing fun stuff with them. We took them to Queens Park for Canada Day, to Toronto Island for a picnic, we take the kids trick-or-treating every Halloween, we had a Thanksgiving potluck together, went to High Park to see the cherry blossoms, and we hosted a baby shower for the family’s mother. This summer we even went camping together. Most times we visit, we will go to the park near their home to play soccer and climb on the play structure.
How did you create your Welcome Group?
We’re all friends. When I found out about this opportunity, I approached a group of five other people, my partner included, that I thought might be interested — and they all said yes. We all play soccer together already and it made sense for us to do this all together.
What have you learnt from this experience?
It’s hard to quantify because I’ve learnt so much. One important thing that I learnt was just how hard it is to navigate the bureaucracy of a new country, especially if you don’t speak the language. This is why it’s important to have somebody advocating for you, who knows the system and speaks the language. This was a really big learning experience because I think we can take our ability to navigate systems like healthcare in Canada for granted.
What would be your advice to someone considering volunteering with the Together Project?
I would say they should do it. You should recognize what the time commitment is, and you shouldn’t take that lightly if you’re going to get involved in someone else’s life. But if you understand this and the emotional impact of getting involved in newcomers’ lives, I would say please do it. It’s definitely the best thing that I’ve ever done.
Interview by Natasha Comeau.