execdirThe historic initiative by the Canadian government to fast-track the arrival of 25,000 Syrian newcomers to Canada was a transformative experience for COSTI. We were responsible for receiving and resettling 1,900 newcomers in the span of three months. By the end of April, the majority had moved out of their temporary accommodation and into their new homes.

Two key reasons for the success of this initiative, was the unprecedented cooperation and coordination by all three levels of government and the involvement and mobilization of grass-roots organizations and individuals. The community’s involvement and contribution has been outstanding, as thousands of Canadians stepped forward to help. Volunteers came together to help in many ways – providing interpretation, transportation to medical appointments, searching for homes, hosting events and dinners, making monetary donations and providing clothing and household goods.

The stories of support offered by volunteers and the appreciation of Syrian newcomers across Canada are countless. In March, a volunteer approached me and mentioned that she had asked a family of newcomers what had impressed them most about Canada. The response was spontaneous, “the generosity of Canadians.” In December, I was at the Ralph Chiodo Family Immigrant Reception Centre where I helped hand out winter toques, mittens and scarves that were knitted by volunteers. Some of the knitters had left personal messages with the packages. A man came to me asking if we had the address of the particular knitter because he wanted to send a thank you note. He showed me the card that had accompanied his toque. It read, “I have not knit in forty years, but I thought that you were a good reason for me to start. I hope this keeps you warm. Welcome to Canada.” My emotions run high as I recount this experience. Imagine what this woman did, and what all the volunteers have done, extending their talent, their time and good will to total strangers. That to me is the noblest of virtues. All 1,900 newcomers are safe and in their new homes because of everyone involved. No one person or organization was solely responsible. The community collectively achieved the remarkable goal of quickly providing safe and secure homes for the Syrian newcomers.

All 1,900 newcomers are safe in their new homes because of everyone involved. No one person or organization was solely responsible.

COSTI has always had strong institutional partners, from settlement agencies to Community Colleges, to complement our work with newcomers. The Syrian refugee initiative has provided a greater opportunity to work more directly with civil society for the benefit of refugees. This has allowed us to provide a more robust service to our clients while at the same time educating community members, through their engagement, on the value of immigration. We feel that this can only contribute to the formation of a more welcoming community for newcomers. We currently have a Stakeholder Engagement Manager that is working with mosques and other civil society groups to provide enhanced services to our clients. Out of a challenge came an opportunity to be of greater service.

Mario J. Calla
Executive Director