Healthy Communities Welcoming Syrian Refugees

The Refugee Next Door

“Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me.”—Carlos Fuentes

Taniel is a bright, ambitious and determined young man.  He has a degree in Information Technology, wants to continue his education with a Master’s degree, has plenty of work experience, and is willing to take almost any job you give him, even those on a volunteer basis.

Sounds like most young people you know; except he’s not most young people. He just celebrated his fifth-month anniversary in Canada.

Taniel, 23, is from Syria; like many of his fellow Syrians, he fled the country amidst civil war after being forced to leave his hometown in March 2013. While in Lebanon and working odd jobs, he applied for refugee status to Canada. When talking about his journey to Canada—a 40-hour ordeal through Lebanon and Jordan, then finally landing in Toronto on December 22, 2015—he remembers hearing the stories of his fellow Syrians and how they came to this country.

“25,000 refugees came to Canada. I bet you’ll hear 50,000 stories from them.  Each one of them has a different perspective about Syria, about Canada, but one thing is certain: they are all hurt. They’ve lost something inside.”

Though Taniel has also lost a lot by leaving his homeland, he has eagerly begun to build his future in Canada. Through his sponsor, Taniel learned about the YMCA’s Newcomer Services and Employment Centre in Etobicoke and jumped at the chance to learn more about finding a job, going back to school, and volunteering in his new hometown.

“I was a little overwhelmed at first, but staff was very helpful. They always welcome you with a smile, help you with any questions you have, and they have so much information to give you. You can ask many people about many things.”

What’s impressed him the most is the honesty and guidance his counsellors have provided so far. “They don’t just hand you the job…they show you how to get it [yourself].”

Being at the centre—twice a week at times—has helped him fuel his ambitions of returning to school and continuing his education and finding a job. Recently, Taniel has started learning how to drive and has been accepted into a 15-week job training program in his field—information technology. He plans to use the training he’ll get to re-launch his IT career.

Taniel’s experiences so far have helped him to see Canada as it can be—a group of people, often newcomers themselves, who do their best to help others to the best of their ability. “I don’t really feel like a visitor anymore…I feel like a Canadian. I’m not the same guy who came here five months ago.”

Perhaps like most young people you know, whether they are newcomers or not, Taniel has an overwhelmingly positive outlook on his future in Canada.  “I’ve come here with so many goals to achieve…so hopefully I’ll be able to, like the YMCA says, help build healthy communities. When I came here, I felt like I had a responsibility to myself, my family and my community. As they say, ‘with power comes responsibility’.”

For more information about how the YMCA of Greater Toronto is helping Syrian refugees, click here.