Connecting Syrian Youth and Families to Calgary Communities

On April 27, CDLI's meet-up focused on discussing how to support Syrian youth and families be more connected in Calgary through examining successful community examples and stories of connection/ engagement between Syrian residents and other Calgarians. CDLI co-hosted this meet-up with the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS) & Syrian Refugee Support Group Calgary held at the Syrian Refugee Support Group warehouse. 

Over 50 participants attended, more than half were from the Calgary Syrian Refugee community. Discussions centered on fostering greater connection of Syrian youth to other youth in Calgary (and other Calgarians); and discussing successful community engagement stories of Syrian youth and families being more connected to other Calgarians (and other community groups) and being more included/ engaged in activities. Below are excerpts of the meet-up discussions. 

What's working:  3 Successful initiatives were shared:

  • Giving back from the heart – Syrian youth group came together to give back to Calgary community as a thank-you for being welcomed. Activities included flower day at Chinook Mall where they distributed roses to citizens and had wonderful community exchanges. They continue to receive encouragement from others to stay engaged in connecting across communities and to improve their community through their initiatives.
  • Mt. Pleasant Community Association – Community has taken on a number of supportive initiatives including a family matching program for support (4 Cdn. families matched with 1 refugee family ensures ongoing availability and to provide the diverse help needed to fully integrate to community life).
  • Bridge Foundation – Supporting youth from agency perspective with field trips, English, resumes, scholarship and school entrance support, etc. Having someone who is not only from the same culture but shares similar life experiences as some of the Syrian refugees makes Calgary Bridge Foundation able to bring much depth and empathy to the support work with the youth.  

Community connections and possible actions:

Canadian and Syrian 1:1 conversations with format to explore shared hobbies, interests, gifts and talents and things they would like to learn or try further. Examples of connections made:

  • Two youth expressed interest in learning how to become a police officer was connected with someone who has a retired police officer friend that she could connect him to for coffee and information, and the CBE Arabic steering committee representative on the police department was present and shared information about accessing the youth police cadet program. 
  • Canadian community member with access to people running community kitchens will connect youth wanting to find access to a Halal kitchen to convene youth.
  • Support and recommendations were provided from a High school English as a second language teacher to several youth who were having challenges in their English language studies.
  • Connections were made for youth interested in outdoors to convene a group to go hiking/fishing.
  • Café connection to several agencies supporting families to share Parent Café conversations around supporting learning.

Learnings from cross community exchanges – what works for supporting Syrian refugee youth/ families to feel more welcomed or connected in Calgary:

  • A bit of a “push” - The Syrian community members need Calgarians to continue to encourage them to participate as much as possible in activities with other non-Syrian Calgarians so they can practice their English skills, try new activities, have new experiences in Calgary/ Canada. It is a difficult transition adjusting to Calgary/Canada so they can use all the extra encouragement and support we can offer.
  • Think of the youth – because of the war in Syria some of the Syrian refugee youth and children have been out of school for many years, some as much as 8 years.
  • Importance of parental support – Inspite of the challenges of adjusting to a new culture, Syrian parents need to do what they can to ensure both their children and themselves learn English, increase their knowledge & skills (by taking advantage to various workshops/ trainings offered by agencies) and get training in new job skills as necessary.
  • Too many invitations – agencies and the wider community need to aware that bombarding the Syrian refugee community with many invitations (especially by email, flyers, etc.) may achieve the opposite effect of overwhelming the community and causing further isolation.
  • Going beyond invitations – a better approach that seems to work is taking the time to form friendships with members of the Syrian refugee community, building thrust and rapport, making/delivering personal invitations (face-to-face best) and then accompanying your Syrian refugee friend/s to the activity, event, etc. This approach is needed until Syrian refugees have more capacity/ comfort to travel on their own, become familiar with the transit system, feel safe, etc.
Abbas Mancey