- Photos and article by Melissa Shaw
Supplies are ready to be sent to about 2,000 Syrian refugees across the province after volunteers assembled kits at a warehouse in Burnaby.
GlobalMedic volunteer Brett Simms said the kits are distributed across the province to about 300 to 400 Syrian refugee families in the Lower Mainland, 50 on Vancouver Island and 25 to 30 families in smaller communities. Leftover kits will be saved for refugees that have yet to arrive.
Proctor & Gamble provided the supplies: laundry soap, fabric softener, dish soap, feminine hygiene products, soap, razors, shampoo and conditioner.
Simms said GlobalMedic is currently active in Iraq, Serbia and Greece. Roughly 25 people were helping at the warehouse, some coming from as far away as Kamloops and Vancouver Island.
He said their efforts are an example of Canadian's “generosity of spirit."
“We've got people like charitable organizations, businesses, individuals, recent families, all coming together to do something like this is just amazing to me but it's something Canada is well-known for around the world,” Simms said.
Mary Loblaw, a teacher from Port Moody said she's volunteering because it's for a good cause.
“We have many refugees in the Lower Mainland and some coming in to the school district I work in. They manage on very little and so things like this are helpful to them,” Loblaw said.
According to government statistics, Canada has accepted 26,506 Syrian refugees as of April 8, 2016. Syria is in the midst of an ongoing civil war.
Mercy Corps states that half of Syria's pre-war population of over 11 million people has either been killed or has fled the country.
The majority of kits are distributed by Muslim Food Bank and Community Services volunteers and GlobalMedic volunteers.
Muslim Food Bank director Mainu Ahmed said their organization works in partnership with the Immigrant Services Society of BC.
“We help with the social aspects so we basically provide food on arrival, toiletry packs, etc, to help them integrate quickly into mainstream society,” Ahmed said.
In addition to basic supplies, The Muslim Food Bank runs a community caseworker program, connects newcomers with jobs and offers volunteer-run conversational English groups across the province.
Ahmed said housing is an issue because many of the Syrian newcomers have large families.
“Given the amount of money they receive as a subsistence allowance it's not sufficient to actually get affordable housing, so that has been a big challenge,” he said.
There are some really good success stories Ahmed added, such as the family of 12 that he heard just moved into a house.
The Muslim Food Bank assisted refugees that arrived in Canada two days before the end of 2015 to file their tax returns and it has provided ISSBC with a cultural sensitivity training program that will be rolled out in the more remote areas of the province.
He motioned towards his group of volunteers, “they come from totally different parts of Syria. They met here and they've become friends. They support each other's families.”
Ahmed said one of the women in the group came here with her mother and brother. He said she recently had a baby but her husband is missing.
“She's come a long way from when I saw her the first day, when she was just lying on the bed and didn't want to see the world to now where she's out and she's actually volunteering,” he said.