Kidnapping, torture, execution of family or friends, sexual assault, exploitation and threats. These are the kinds of horrors that Syrian refugees, who now call Canada home, may have experienced escaping from one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. United Way of the Lower Mainland (UWLM) is investing $158,000 into mental health support programs to help the latest wave of Syrian newcomers arriving in our region. The programs will be delivered through two social service agencies funded by United Way: DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society and MOSAIC. An urgent community fundraising appeal was launched in November to help Syrian children and families settle here in our community. UWLM talked with partner agencies to better understand the needs of Syrian refugees and then asked for project ideas to access the funds. “As a healthy, caring, inclusive community, it’s incumbent upon us to help these people,” says Michael McKnight, President & CEO, United Way of the Lower Mainland. “These programs that focus on mental health support for Syrian newcomers will provide a critically important service.” DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society, based in Surrey, will use the $88,000 grant from United Way to deliver eight 5-week group sessions for Syrian adults and parents, as well as children age 5 to 12. The sessions will use curriculum that has been developed by experienced providers of trauma services for refugees and will be facilitated by registered clinical counsellors and other trained staff who work with DIVERSEcity’s Counselling Services department. At least one facilitator of each group will speak Arabic and have a working knowledge of the cultural norms, religious beliefs and communication needs or barriers. Childminding for younger children and lunch will be provided. “We are so thankful to United Way for supporting this program as there is a tremendous need for programs like this that support the mental health of refugees – we know how beneficial it is for their successful settlement and long term success here in Canada,” Tahzeem Kassam, Chief Operating Officer, DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society. MOSAIC will use the grant of $70,000 to provide art and play therapy groups for Syrian families with children under the age of 12 at a community school in Burnaby. The project will help Syrian families integrate into the school system and link families to additional free mental health services to help families overcome trauma. “United Way’s longstanding investment in communities, particularly helping vulnerable families with children, in partnership with organizations has always been an inspiration to MOSAIC’s initiatives. In light of the Syrian refugees arriving in the Lower Mainland, and their vulnerability, this school-based trauma intervention programming will help Syrian families successfully integrate into their local communities,” says Eyob Naizghi, Executive Director of MOSAIC. In total, between 2,500 and 3,000 Syrian refugees are expected to settle in the Lower Mainland and other parts of the province over the coming months. Forty percent of these new arrivals will be children under 18 and will require settlement and community integration support as they adjust to their new life in Canada. In response to the need, UWLM launched a fundraising appeal to help Syrian refugees. These two mental health support programs are the first in a series of investments that United Way will be making in the Lower Mainland to help families settle. UWLM has a long history of helping refugee families settle and integrate into life in the Lower Mainland. In 2015, UWLM invested $2.5 million into programs and services for refugee and immigrant families in the Lower Mainland. You can help: to make a donation, go to www.uwlm.ca/refugees.
photo credit: European Commision DG Echo