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Footnotes

Danielle Paradis explores what makes Edmonton a great city.

Five real, meaningful ways you can help Syrian refugees today

Over the past week, I’ve reached out to numerous local agencies to find out how Edmontonians can help.

In this Friday, Sept. 11, 2015 photo, Barzan, a 32-year-old Syrian refugee, hugs his children as he talks about his wife and daughter who migrated to Europe a month ago, at an informal tented settlement in Irbil, northern Iraq.

AP

In this Friday, Sept. 11, 2015 photo, Barzan, a 32-year-old Syrian refugee, hugs his children as he talks about his wife and daughter who migrated to Europe a month ago, at an informal tented settlement in Irbil, northern Iraq.

About a year ago, on a train bound for Charles de Gaulle Airport, I locked eyes with a middle-aged Middle Eastern man. Noting my Lebanese features, he greeted me in Arabic. I rarely get to flex my (feeble) second language so I was pleased, but quickly he turned to asking me for money. He was a migrant, he explained, on his way to welcome more family members, and could I spare 10 or 20 Euros?

I conjured every reason to refuse, though I didn’t say them all aloud: The trip had cost a fortune; I needed my last bill for the layover; my looming flight left little time to find a bank machine; he was too aggressive. Angry, he reminded me of the countless Lebanese who took refuge in Syria during its drawn civil war, and shamed me for how Canada had changed me. I finally thought I’d had a valid excuse: He’d insulted me.
It took 13 months for me to realize that insult was deserved. Like so many Canadians, it took seeing a baby face-down in the sand to see the thousands of other images of oppressed refugees hiding in plain site since 2011.

And to notice how far gone this once famously generous nation is from its past humanitarianism. Many have blamed our Conservative government, but we only have ourselves to blame for ignoring them and for the shame on this nation.

Over the past week, I’ve reached out to numerous local agencies to find out how Edmontonians can help.

1. Send kids to kindergarten

Since 2014, Edmonton-based Humanserve International has worked with partners in Beirut to fund a kindergarten for 40 refugee students. The school employs displaced Syrian teachers and a social worker. You can donate at humanserve.org.

2. Greet a family at the airport

About 150 Syrian refugees will arrive at the Edmonton airport in the coming months. Omer Yaqub of Islamic Family & Social Services Association, says having someone there to greet them makes a huge difference. “Most of them are OK financially ... but (locals) can support those families with household provisions, helping them integrate into Canada, inviting them to dinner.”

3. Help hire full-time services

Most of the IFSSA and Edmonton Mennonite Centre’s human resources for refugees are volunteers with big hearts but little expertise. “We want to pay someone to do that work (full-time), take a year to learn to navigate the system, and set processes and system in place,” says Yaqub. Refugees often suffer from PTSD, which is hard to treat without social workers and counsellors. Donate at ifssa.ca or emcn.ab.ca.

4. Get professionals certified

Many foreign professionals struggle to find meaningful work because their certification isn’t recognized here. Edmonton Region Immigrant Employment Council depends on skilled volunteers to mentor newcomers to upgrade their qualifications (eriec.ca).

5. Sponsor as a community

Few can afford $27,000 to sponsor a family, but through the Calgary-based Mennonite Central Committee you can form a sponsorship group. “We prefer groups of more than three,” says program director Orlando Vasquez. “A community is welcoming a refugee.” (Mcccanada.ca).

Omar Mouallem (@omar_aok) is based in Edmonton and edits the Yards magazine.

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