We sometimes forget that the knowledge we have attained through the years (which has become second nature to us) is something a newcomer yearns to learn so that he or she can comfortably integrate into society. This hits close to home for the newly arrived Syrian families who were forced to leave their homes and come to Canada as refugees.
Enactus Ryerson’s Project Welcome is dedicated to helping hundreds of the newcomers that arrive in Canada each year. Project Welcome has created financial literacy modules that teach newcomers about Canadian currency, the average costs of living in Toronto, budgeting, banking, credit, paying for school with support such as OSAP, taxes and more.
When Syrian refugees arrived to Canada, Project Welcome worked with the newcomers and volunteers to conduct a needs assessment to determine the level of knowledge they had of the Canadian system. As we met the Syrian families in hotels, apartments, and houses, we were shocked to hear about their experiences!
We learned that many newcomers went into depression when they arrived, since they were unable to speak English and had very little financial support. One volunteer donated a microwave to a family of refugees, only to find out that the family had been forced to sell it to get money to feed their children. Another family did not eat for an entire day! Desperate for employment while being unaware of the Canadian system, some of the newcomers were being taken advantage of, being forced to work 12-hour shifts without overtime and making well under the minimum wage. One family told one of our members that they are living in a basement apartment for $1,000 when in reality it should only be half that price. These are just some of the financial challenges Syrian families are facing when they arrive in Canada.
Having heard all of the above stories, Project Welcome decided it was time to host our first financial literacy workshop for the Syrian newcomers on April 11, 2016, to address Canadian currency, rent, minimum wage, utilities, transportation, food prices, SMART goal setting, storing important documents and financial records, and budgeting.
In order to remain accommodating to Syrian families’ needs, Project Welcome delivered the workshop in Arabic, and provided food, refreshments, prayer space, and a daycare for Syrian kids, welcoming the families with open arms.
We are proud to say that our event was well-received by the Syrian newcomers with bright smiles! They enjoyed the session and are eager to join us at our next workshop. As we received many heartfelt thanks, we were humbled by the experience and learned the importance of the little knowledge we possess that may open big doors for newcomers. We also realized the importance of communication and appreciating the little things we have. Due to the Syrians’ desire to learn about the Canadian financial system, our workshop kept the families engaged and informed. When the session finished, a newly arrived young Syrian girl concluded the session by approaching the microphone and saying, “I love Canada!”
Project Welcome will continue to provide financial literacy workshops to newcomer families at Ryerson University. We hope to expand these workshops across the GTA in order to reach and assist larger groups of newcomers. In addition to financial literacy, Project Welcome will also be helping many newcomers who had businesses back home to start their own businesses here in Canada. We are very grateful to Ryerson for giving us this opportunity and we hope a spark is ignited within the Ryerson community’s hearts to help those that are in need by applying the knowledge we gain through our education; this is what Enactus Ryerson has been doing and will continue to do.
Project Welcome’s second Arabic Financial Literacy Workshop for the Syrian families will be held on May 24, 2016, and will cover topics related to banking in Canada.
For more details, please visit and like the Enactus Ryerson Project Welcome Facebook page.
Photos: Yauheni Bolt