The struggle continues – Haitham needs our help

Haitham’s neighbourhood being bombed

The refugee crisis is not over.

Millions of people have been displaced from their homes. Families and individuals have fled bombing, witnessed murders, and endured forced military service while they evade radical groups that are terrorizing their region. Many have lost everything. They had jobs, careers, homes, communities, stable lives, and friends. Those things have been destroyed.

Haitham is one of these people. His neighbourhood, in his hometown of Damascus, was destroyed by bombs. His family has been displaced and his community destroyed. His home is now a pile of rubble.

Searching for survivors in Haitham’s neighbourhood

Haitham’s neighbourhood – destroyed

Haitham fled when he was forced to choose between serving in the military or being killed. While his family fled to Egypt, Haitham followed a job lead to Turkey. The job did not materialize, and he spent the next couple of years scrambling to survive. Work was rarely available, and when it was, it was often underpaid or stolen. He found himself sleeping in parks and eating only eggs for months on end. Starving and unable to get enough to live on, he returned to Syria where he was immediately arrested and sentenced to hard labour.

After several months of labour, he managed to escape to Lebanon, crossing the border at night. There, he again lived under very difficult circumstances; beatings were common for Syrians living there.

Finally, after borrowing from every resource available, his parents were able to bribe officials to let him into Egypt. They were reunited for a short time. His family then had to leave him behind when were accepted into Canada as government sponsored refugees. Haitham has been struggling in Egypt ever since.

In the past couple of years, the United Nations has recorded the highest number of refugees in history. Over 12 million people from Syria are displaced or seeking refuge, in addition to over 8 million people from Africa, Afghanistan, and the rest of the world. At the same time, the voluntary return rates—a measure of how many refugees can safely return home—are at their lowest levels in over 3 decades. Never before has there been a greater need for tolerance, compassion, and support for people who have lost everything. For many of these people, getting enough to eat is a daily challenge, abuse is common, and there is little hope for a better future.

Haitham and his newly born son

In 2016, the outpouring of support in Canada for Syrian refugees was tremendous. People from Victoria came together and sponsored dozens of families. The Federal Government matched this effort by bringing nearly as many families to Lower Vancouver Island.

Since then, a lot of people have been busy helping these new Canadians set up their homes and settle into a new life. But there is more to do. There are more people to reunite with their families and more people to give a chance at a safe and secure life.

Haitham is such a person. Now that he is married and has a baby son, life has become even more difficult. He and his new family desperately need our help to resettle near his parents, who have recently arrived in Canada.

I have been helping newly arrived refugees for the past two years by receiving and distributing donated household goods and furniture to help them completely furnish and set up their new households thanks to the help of Victoria’s generous donors and volunteers.

Now, I want to do more. I want to sponsor Haitham. But, I cannot do it alone. It will take a small committed multi-skilled group, pulling together to do, over a 12 month period, all that needs to be done to resettle Haitham’s small family ..from housing to health, ESL and much more, so as to help them integrate and become self sustaining. And, this group will have to raise the money required to do all this, as other groups have done before us.

Contact me at or call 778-433-0337



Follow-up on Apr 13 Sponsorship Group Peer Meeting

Ideas have been flowing fast and furious since we gathered as a community last week. This email covers the following:

  1. A summary of what was covered in the meeting
  2. Ideas and developments that have emerged since then
  3. The names of those who have volunteered to be coordinating committee for this city-wide refugee support network
  4. Next steps for the coordinating committee


Meeting Notes

Government-sponsored refugees Khaled and Maura, and privately-sponsored refugees, Samira and Hani, spoke about the circumstances of their departure from Syria, their experience to date in Canada, and the most pressing needs for their settlement in Canada. Hassan Wafai interpreted and moderated the session. All four spoke most poignantly about their concerns and fears for family members left behind, and their desires to have them sponsored. They also spoke about the needs for inexpensive housing, ESL, employment, schooling for children, health and dental care, as well as fot opportunities to explore Victoria. Most notably, Khaled and Maura spoke of the struggle they were experiencing in finding affordable housing, and of the administrative barriers to securing that housing as newly arrived residents. They also noted that the resources afforded to them by the government are clearly not enough to cover even basic expenses.

Moustaffa Jammal spoke both about the efforts of the Mosque to support the resettlement effort, as well as of the range of activities that the Mosque offers. He noted that Samara Graves, a member of the mosque, issues a monthly newsletter filled with news of upcoming activities including a parent and tot ESL playgroup, Islamic girl guides, and more.

Alvaro Moreno of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Society Centre spoke about the coordination role that VIRCS is playing on the island. Its focus is to work with settlement organizations at a strategic level on critical issues including housing and employment. VIRCS also has a wrap-around program for vulnerable populations. He noted that 80 percent of the refugees arriving appear to fit the criteria, and thus would be eligible to be placed in this program, which is aimed at supporting them in their search for work, healthcare, housing and more. VIRCS also offers activities like ESL classes, playgroups, legal clinics, and wellness counselling. Any of the government or privately sponsored refugees can attend.

Mitch Hammond introduced us to, an excellent website and exchange platform that has been set up to support the settlement effort. It lists events, resources, discussion boards, a trading post where people can post goods they need, or would like to donate to refugee families. It also has a confidential email list-serve. If you’d like to be notified of events coming up, visit the site to put yourself on the list. The group also heard that a warehouse has been established to collect and distribute goods to government-assisted refugees. People wanting further information are to contact the website.


Recent Developments and Emerging Ideas

  1. Adopt-a-Family support for GARs (Government-Assisted Refugees). We have learned that the Tides Foundation in Ontario has set up a robust adopt-a-family support system whereby members of Syrian newcomers are paired with members of local sponsorship groups (generally those who have not yet received a privately sponsored refugee) for help with settlement, and friendship. They are then responsible for guiding them through the settlement process, including the search for housing, placing children in schools, finding a doctor, and more. While the ICA in Victoria is the settlement agency responsible for settling refugees, it has not established a program that compares to this one. Meeting attendees clearly embraced this model, and two Victoria-based sponsorship groups have since allied themselves with two GAR families, and have agreed to support them in their settlement effort. You can learn more about how Tides does it here:
  2. Several community members have come forward to recommend that a fund be set up to support the GARs with basic expenses such as the internet and communications and dental care
  3. Several attendees noted that it would be useful to have a monthly session that brings together community members and recently arrived refugees to continue to hear directly about the needs of the refugees, and to explore together with them how best to meet their needs. They recommended that the next such gathering take place in Langford
  4. Someone has suggested that monthly bilingual newsletter be created that can be circulated directly to sponsorship groups (in English) and the refugees themselves (in Arabic), and that it can contain the various events, camps, job notices, etc., that they can pursue. Perhaps this information can be posted and sent through the website noted above.


Coordinating Committee

Those who have volunteered to sit on the coordinating committee of our new Victoria Refugee Support Network (for lack of a better name!) are: Judy Loukras, Jo Ann Lawson, Karen Platt, Colette Baty, Rachel Bovey, Maureen Bovey, Ricki Buckwold, Yushy Wallace, Peter Fairley, Robin Pike and Brian Rendell. That’s a large group! I’m not on that group, so if you feel you want to be on it, please email Judy Loukras.


Next Steps for the Coordinating Committee:

  1. Determine a date for the first meeting of the coordinating group
  2. Develop the terms of reference for the group
  3. Determine how to communicate with the larger group (should the email list be expanded? how to protect the list? how to ensure coherence with the list-serve on the refugee site noted above)
  4. Determine how to formalize the Adopt-a-Family program noted above – what steps need to be taken? How to collaborate with the ICA and VIRCS
  5. Discuss how to carry forward the ideas noted above including establishing the support fund, another gathering with refugees this time in Langford, and the monthly newsletter
  6. Next meeting with refugees

Rita Parik

UVic course on “Refugees, Democracy, and Activism”

UVic will offer a course on “Refugees, Democracy, and Activism” in the new year, in collaboration with the Inter-Cultural Association (ICA). They have a few spaces for auditing available, and they are wanting to make those spaces available to any refugee sponsorship group members who are interested. A brief synopsis of the course is attached.

If you are a member of a refugee sponsorship group or other members of your group are interested in auditing the course, please contact Professor Budd Hall at:

Auditing spots will be limited, so I assume they will be made available on a first come, first serve basis

UVicRefugeeCourse1 UVicRefugeeCourse2 UVicRefugeeCourse3

Refugees, Democracy and Activism:

A course in International Community Development
January – April, 2016

Drawing on current events happening with the refugee crisis, the School of Public Administration has adapted the topics in the ADMN 200 course, which links the theory and practice of community development and activism within an international context. You will have an opportunity for an in-depth and experiential learning experience that looks at the refugee situation around the world and what we are doing about it here in Victoria.

Facilitated by Dr. Budd L Hall, an activist scholar in social movement learning and community development with the participation of key leaders with Victoria’s Intercultural Association. In addition, Dr. Nick Claxton, Tsawout First Nations, an Aboriginal Advisor to the Faculty of Education, will provide an Indigenous foundation for learning. Bruno Jayme de Oliveira, a Brazilian-Canadian activist artist and PhD candidate, will provide cultural facilitation. We will work towards a final “World We Want” performance and fund-raiser.

ADMN 200 CRN 23821 & tutorial

International Community Development
Through Activism and Capacity Building

Register in: ADMN 200, CRN 23821 and one tutorial
Schedule: Tuesdays, 10:30 – 12:20, Elliott Bldg. 061, Jan-April 2016
Instructor: Dr. Budd Hall
Calendar Description: Students will examine the role they can play to improve their communities in Canada and abroad. Topics include international community development issues and how economic disparities are threatening communities across the globe, including threats to the ecology, health, education, governance, peace, and personal rights and freedoms. Examines how individuals, non-profit organizations, governments and social movements can build capacity for change in Canada and in other countries.

For information: Contact Heather Kirkham, Program Manager at
School of Public Administration