3.G The experience of a business sponsoring refugees
Location: Guelph, Ontario
Name of Sponsoring Group: Danby Appliances
Type of Sponsoring Group: We worked with Sponsorship Agreement Holders to sponsor refugees
Number of Sponsors in Group: One (a business) with the support of 800 community volunteers.
Sponsoring Since: 2015
Sponsoring Group Description: All backgrounds
Interviewee: Jim Estill
Did you previously know the refugees you sponsored?
We didn’t know the families we sponsored, but we started with family and friends of people already here in Canada.
What motivated you to support refugees?
It is a humanitarian crisis. I did not want to grow old and say I stood by and did nothing. One of the phrases I repeat all the time is “Do the Right Thing.” It is actually how we try to run Danby Appliances. So I am simply trying to “Do the Right Thing.”
How are you involved in supporting refugees?
I am immersed in it. I meet with refugees and volunteers daily. It is a full-time job on top of the already full time job of running my company.
What advantages do businesses have in sponsorship or supporting refugees over other sponsors?
Business people know how to organize and structure things. They know how to get things done. I always tell people “if you can run a company with 800 people, you can run a volunteer organization with 800 people.”
In our case, we organized it like a business with a director of health, director of education, director of housing, director of jobs, etc. The director of mentors assigned each family an Arabic speaking mentor and family and 4-5 English speaking mentors. Each mentor group had checklists – set up a bank account, get a doctor, get a Health Card, get a bus pass, ride the bus, get a library card, set up a computer with Duolingo, etc. And then there are bi-weekly scorecard check-ins to see what is needed; for example, a family might need a Skype tutor or a soccer team for the child, etc.
What challenges are involved when businesses sponsor or support refugees?
We don’t have the full support of our customers – particularly those in the US (where most of our sales are) – so some choose not to buy from us.
How can businesses be leveraged in support of refugees?
Businesses have resources – not only cash, but staff, trucks, warehouses, etc. Businesses have contacts. One of the most important things for refugees is jobs and business people can influence other business people to give these people a break and offer them work.
What sorts of measures can businesses take to integrate refugees into the workplace?
The most obvious is hire them. However the most important is helping them learn English. Implementing English as a Second Language training, English word of the day, English lunch buddies, English learning programs with Skype tutors, TV, Mango Language, Duolingo, tea circle, etc. are all helpful.
What is the experience of arrival and the refugees’ first weeks like?
The first week is mostly elated, happy to be safe. Then reality sets in – learning English is hard, I miss my friends and family, my education and experience are not recognized, I am dependent to get to my doctor appointment, get my bus pass (and riding the bus), and buy my groceries, etc. I think many found it frustrating. Then they move to independence over time.
How do you find accessing settlement services in your community?
Excellent. They are a good group. Well intentioned. Somewhat over-worked.
What is the best part of your sponsorship experience?
Seeing someone start a new life and blossom is very fulfilling. Seeing children grow and thrive. Knowing you have made a difference.
How are the refugees you sponsored doing today?
Success is families working, speaking English, supporting themselves, some degree of integration. From where we are now, I think that over 80% of the 58 families we sponsored are successful using this definition. Progress varies from family to family, and learning English is still a hard part for some.