From friends to family: Together Project matches newcomers with local families
The 'hands-on approach' a big hit, organizer says
When Alix Ablaza and her family first met the Al-Khoulys, it was "interesting" at first, she says.
The Al-Khoulys moved to Toronto in 2016 as refugees from the Syrian civil war. They had first fled to Lebanon in 2011, just as the fighting started.
The family of five spoke Arabic. Ablaza's family didn't.
There was no idea how much they would have in common.
The families met through a program called The Together Project. It matches families with government-assisted refugees to help them navigate life in Canada a bit better.
"It was really hard to speak to people when we first came," Bahaa Al-Khouly recalled. "Even when we go buy some stuff it was hard to understand."
They're now in Grade 9 even though students their age are in Grade 12.
"When you stop dreaming of the future, of what you want to be and have to start again...it's difficult," Walaa said.
Those are some of the things that the families they matched with through The Together Project help with.
"It's not a financial thing. We set up dentist appointments. We have an appointment next week with an employment counsellor."
"It's about getting them to what resources are available."
'It's something,' volunteer says
Levy is American but has spent the last 20 years in Canada.
"Seeing what's going on in the States with immigrants has made me crazy," she explained. "I'm not much for going out and demonstrating or holding a sign, but I found...this group and said 'I'm going to do this' because it's something."
"It's really the kind of hands-on approach to supporting a vulnerable population that makes it very appealing," he said.
Andy Lloyd also signed up with The Together Project and was paired with the Al-Khoulys. He says the immigrant community in Toronto motivated him to join the program.
"Recognizing the incredible contributions that immigrants and refugees have made in Canada, many people who I know and work with, who came here 30, 40 years ago with nothing and are now real community leaders," he said.
"It's incredible to be a part of that transition for another family."
The families first got paired up in July and have become good friends since.
"They're more than friends now, they're family," Walaa said.
With files from Farrah Merali