- Syrian refugees join CultureLink members in Toronto to celebrate arrival and integration to Canada

The opportunity to come to Canada “felt like a dream” for Syrian refugee Ibrahim Kanaan and his family.

Kanaan, his wife, two daughters and son, arrived in Toronto on a cold, wintery day after a 17-hour flight from Jordan where they had fled from their war-torn Syrian village of Khirbet Ghazaleh.

“My family and I were given the opportunity to begin again in the only country in the world to accept refugees as citizens,” Kanaan said.

In the more than five months since his arrival, Kanaan said he has been able to secure work as a part-time social worker while he and his family have settled into an apartment in Etobicoke where his children are enrolled in school and have adapted well to Canadian life. He credits CultureLink, the Bloor West and Dundas West streets-area not-for-profit organization that facilitates the settlement of newcomers to Toronto.

“Your support has meant so much to our family and others like us,” Kanaan said during CultureLink’s Syrian Project donor, volunteer and partner appreciation breakfast Tuesday morning at the nearby Lithuanian House.

His daughters performed as part of CultureLink’s Nai Syria Children’s Choir at the May 31 event. His girls love to sing in the choir.

“Activities like this give them a sense of belonging and a chance to speak their language,” Kanaan said.

The choir, which boasts 40 children, practices every Saturday at CultureLink where its families get the chance to get together to socialize.

CultureLink, its volunteers, donors and community partners, have helped more than 2,000 Syrian refugees settle into their new lives over the past six months.

“From when the first plane landed in Toronto to when our clients rented their first apartments, CultureLink has been there,” Abdi Yousef, school programs manager, said.

Its executive director Abrahim Absiye recalled the day Fei Tang, program manager of the community connections mentorship program approached him with the idea to establish a donation centre. They approached their landlord, who didn’t hesitate to donate a 9,000 sq.-ft. space for six months for free.

“Hundreds of people have volunteered their time at the donation centre,” Absiye said.

People like Arshiah Ali and Diana Brugos are volunteers.

“The whole experience has been so worthwhile for all of us volunteers,” Brugos said.

Brugos, who had been a volunteer with Operation Sock Monkey, which supports humanitarian organizations providing hope and healing to communities around the world with handmade sock monkeys, was looking for another place to lend her time. Low and behold, she was surprised to discover CultureLink only blocks away from her home. CultureLink cares about its clients, she said.

“Their hearts are in their jobs,” Brugos said. “This has been such a great experience for us.”

Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Michael Chan attended the event to share his gratitude for all that CultureLink and its volunteers and donors do.

“The Ontario government has invested $8.2 million in new funding to support refugee resettlement,” he said. “Refugees are fortunate to have been supported by dedicated volunteers like yourselves.”

The appreciation event did not signal the end of support for Syrian refugees, Absiye stressed. There is more work to be done. CultureLink is in the midst of developing further programming to aid in Syrians’ adjustment to their new life in Toronto.

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