The Volunteer Refugee Outreach Project June 2, 2017
The Volunteer Refugee Outreach project is an outgrowth of discussions at Volunteers Connect, a network of volunteers serving cultural organizations in the Toronto area. Begun in 2011 by the Volunteer Executive at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Volunteers Connect strives to enhance communication and cooperation among volunteers and staff. Over the past 6 years, it has grown to include more than 20 arts and cultural organization; 40 or more participants meet semi-annually, sharing resources and information and discussing and solving common problems.
Harbourfront Centre volunteers have been a strong supporter of this network from its inception. It was during a round table discussion that an initiative addressing Syrian Refugees was first raised by Harbourfront Centre volunteer representatives.
This led to the formation of a subcommittee to consider how Volunteers Connect might possibly support Syrian refugees as they settle in Toronto.
The subcommittee’s report pointed out that more than 10,000 Syrian refugees arrived in the Toronto area during 2016. They were sponsored by the Canadian government as well as private sponsors (various community and religious groups). During this time, the refugees have had to adjust to: a new language; a new culture; as well as settling into new housing; new schools; new places of worship; finding work and for many, experiencing an enormous emotional adjustment.
Recent research shows that more than 10% of refugees suffer from some form of Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder and it is double that for children from war torn communities. Researchers from the University of Toronto and George Brown College have reported that arts and cultural experiences can play a significant role in the healing process for refugees.
The subcommittee further noted that a plethora of organizations already service the refugee community including: municipal services; libraries; churches and all the various settlement-related agencies. Several arts and cultural organizations (including Harbourfront Centre) have already successfully included refugees in their program schedule.
It was suggested that there is an opportunity for Volunteers Connect member organizations to partner with agencies servicing refugees. This partnership could help in supporting the work of settlement agencies and at the same time, heighten the role and profile of volunteers.
The initial proposal was to create a special event hosted by member agencies of Volunteers Connect in order to welcome the newest residents and to introduce them to the array of arts and cultural opportunities in the Toronto area. It was envisioned that this event might be an afternoon get-together for a large number of refugee families with volunteers from a variety of agencies serving as hosts and providing information about their various agencies.
Click here for Request for input from the membership
While there was some support for such a project, it appeared that it would require a major effort of coordination of many agencies; a funding source; translation services; and would likely be an unwieldy event to manage.
Harbourfront Centre volunteer representatives suggested that a pilot project be undertaken at its beautiful site on the waterfront.
Professor Karen Sinotte, volunteer at Harbourfront Centre with links to the Rexdale Women’s Centre, was able to gain enthusiastic support from the Women’s Centre for such a venture. Larry Lewis, volunteer at Harbourfront Centre, agreed to be liaison between Harbourfront Centre’s volunteer leadership and members of Volunteers Connect. To assist in maintaining communication of the pilot project, Larry developed a website www.volunteerrefugeeoutreach.org . It is anticipated that the website will serve as a bulletin board to inform Volunteers Connect members and post latest activites.
In short, it has been proposed that a group of Syrian refugee families be brought to Harbourfront Centre for an afternoon of activities during one of the summer festivals and be welcomed by the Centre’s volunteers.
The plan is to document each step of this pilot project to its successful conclusion and have it serve as one possible model for agencies within Volunteers Connect to consider employing.
Details and logistics of this project are rapidly being developed. (Click on pilot project)