Magazine article Internet@Schools

Serving Special Populations and Making a Difference: Refugees

Magazine article Internet@Schools

Serving Special Populations and Making a Difference: Refugees

Article excerpt

THIS column is a bit of an indulgence since it sits at the overlapping personal interests of my life-libraries, charity, and a passion for making a difference. But then, I know this mix is pretty typical of our profession.

Some background: In Canada we committed to take in more than 25,000 refugees in just a few short months at the end of 2015 and early 2016. Most of these refugees are families who have been living (with millions of others) for years in camps or desperately engaging in perilous sea travel. Too many have perished in this way, and your heart cannot help but break just by seeing the news photos.

So what is to be done? As an individual, you're overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. How can I possibly make a difference? What can I personally do?

My wife's neighborhood book club had just such a conversation. One of the women in the group had sponsored a family coming to Canada during the refugee crisis in Rwanda. They determined to sponsor one individual, but he arrived at the airport with eight orphans in tow whom he couldn't leave behind So, what the heck! They took them all on. This was decades ago and that "family" has successfully integrated into our society and contributes gratefully to Canada. It's one of the success stories that inspired our group. We immediately determined that research was needed and set the goal to sponsor a family in the group sponsorship class. (The Canadian government directly sponsors thousands of refugees as part of our international commitments. In Canada, you can also sponsor refugees as an individual or a group or in the family class.)

So, our ragged troupe set out to figure all this out. Now 4-5 months later, we're all set to accept our family. We needed to raise $40,000 to cover the costs in Toronto for 1 year, find housing, household goods, and much more. We've all been through our required police checks and taken the required church- or government-sponsored refugee training. By the time this article comes out, we hope to have met our family (one of 25,000-plus this year alone)!

This was the easy part. We made personal financial commitments, ran fundraisers, and sold friends and colleagues on donating. That was also easy-Canadian culture is pluralistic, multicultural, and, frankly, we're all migrants at some point in our past. That's what makes nations strong.

Now on to the tough stuff... ensuring the success of "our" family while respecting their dignity, culture, and needs. It takes a village to raise a child. And that global village is what we're joining.


There are library stories here. A lot of them. And that is the point of this column.

At this juncture, since we haven't met our family yet, we don't know if they're a nuclear family. We don't know if a family member was killed in the war, how many kids there are and what ages they are, the language they speak, educational needs or grade levels, occupations, or anything, really. However, we can plan ahead.

We're doing that librarian thing! It's just a simple mind-mapping exercise. We're identifying and drawing on the expertise of those who've been involved with several waves of immigrants and refugees. We are making lists! We're building a network of like-minded groups. We are collecting websites of advice as well as social service agencies, language help for learning or translation, medical specialties, and so much more. We can't be 100% prepared but-like any good librarian-we now know where to look.

The media and librarian types among us built a website and social media channels ( We're connected to the special programs offered for refugees by the Toronto Public Library. Were in touch with the refugee specialists at the Toronto District School Board. We know where the settlement houses are, and we're getting onside with the philosophy of welcoming new Canadians while allowing them to make decision on their own with support from good information and advice. …

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