3.C Lessons learned by a large sponsoring group
Location: Ottawa, Ontario
Name of Sponsoring Group: Outaouais Refugee Sponsorship Group
Type of Sponsoring Group: Constituent Group of a Sponsorship Agreement Holder
Number of Sponsors in Group: 62
Sponsoring Since: May 2015
Sponsoring Group Description: Lawyers, doctors, teachers, nurses, social workers, a dentist, a real estate agent, a carpenter, financial advisers, IT tech workers, government employees. About 1/3 are retired.
Number of Refugees Sponsored: 4 Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) families
Interviewee: Peter Showler
Did you sponsor someone you know (e.g. friend, family) or someone you did not previously know?
We selected all four families from the Government of Canada’s Blended Visa Office-Referred refugee lists. We used selection criteria: families, minimum three children, maximum five. Not all Syrian.
What was it like sponsoring someone you did not know?
There was no problem sponsoring strangers. Most of our group had no experience with refugees, although several had cross-cultural experience. We formed close emotional attachments very quickly.
How was it that your sponsoring group grew to its size? What made you decide to have such a big sponsoring group?
The group grew organically. The original idea was to form a sponsorship group of 12-15 people to sponsor one family. We required a $2,500 entry contribution. Within two weeks, we had more than 25 people asking to join. We considered starting separate groups; instead we decided to do multiple sponsorships with the same group. Within a month, we had 54 members. The remainder trickled in although we referred many to other groups. In my view, a group of 15 is a maximum number for one family, to share the work but also to establish a personal relationship with the family. Our model worked very well for multiple families.
What are some of the advantages of a large sponsoring group?
We had a variety of professional skills to deal with the extraordinary range of integration demands on a new family, and people were available to share tasks and transport. Small groups are often worn down after a few months; we had lots of reinforcements. It also allowed us to offer one-on-one language training sessions for specific family members and lots of people for social events.
What are some disadvantages/challenges?
Too many group members can overwhelm a family; it can be too many strangers at once. Also, inter-group communication can be a problem.
How do you coordinate a large sponsoring group?
We had a strong leadership committee (three people) and divided the group into functional committees (employment, health, housing, interpreters, education, documents, IT, social activities). We then assigned a core group of 10 members who would do all the basic integration activities for the first two months for a specific family. After two months, other group members, who had met the family at social occasions, would get involved with specific activities (social visit, language training, etc.). The leaders and the committee heads would have contact with every family from the beginning of the sponsorship.
What is the experience of arrival and the refugees’ first weeks like?
The arrival is delicate and unique to each family. We had rental accommodation available for each family. We allowed almost a week for the family to acclimatize with general activities (tour of city, visit to stores, etc.) before beginning detailed work of school, language training, setting up banking, registering for health insurance, etc. There is some expertise in knowing about Resettlement Assistance Programs, health insurance, schools, bus passes, etc. Group members became quite adept by the third sponsorship.
How do you find accessing settlement services in your community?
In the beginning, some agencies were overwhelmed. In general, the schools were excellent, both primary and secondary school. There were not enough language training programs, especially ones that provided day care. By July 2016, there was some improvement, and Refugee 613 (a local organization that was created to help facilitate refugee support) was very helpful. Also, the Anglican Sponsorship Agreement Holder was a very good source of information. Many municipal programs (swimming, summer camps) were helpful.
What is the best part of your sponsorship experience?
By far, the deep affections that quickly arose between the families and group members, especially the core group members who were doing the original contact work for the first two months. There are some deep friendships that continue far after the sponsorship (two of four sponsorships are over but relations continue).
How are the refugees you sponsored doing today?
The father of the first group, after six months of part-time employment after the sponsorship ended, now has very good full-time employment. The family is happy, and the two children are thriving in school. The youngest starts school in the fall. The second family (single parent with five kids) continues on social assistance but the oldest son has full-time summer employment. After early friction at school, all five children are thriving. The other two families are in mid-sponsorship and doing well. The adults in two of the families have serious dental problems that are not covered by government assistance, which is a challenge.