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NEWS: Refugees get Major investment (Oct. 2019)

October 17th, 2019 · No Comments

Major Street residents band together to welcome new Canadians

By Leah Borts-Kuperman

At a Christmas party in 2015, ten neighbours living in Harbord Village decided to contribute $1,000 each to help Syrian refugees. The group, which would eventually call themselves the Major Street Refugee Initiative (MSRI), would go on to raise $80,000 and support a family of eight. That support continues today. 

MSRI provided the family with a home rent-free from a man who had vacated to a retirement residence, and helped them to find medical assistance, food, and clothing as they adjusted to life in Canada. Each MSRI member took on a different set of responsibilities.

Gus Sinclair’s job was to take the family members to doctor’s appointments all over the city, as many of them hadn’t seen a doctor for the better part of a decade.

“There was a huge amount of medical issues–getting checkups, finding out what needed to be fixed up, there were serious teeth issues,” he recalls.

James Murdoch’s role was to be the “cell phone and internet” guy, responsible for getting the family all set up with required  technologies. All members of the group took on responsibilities well beyond those assigned to them.

Sinclair says that the family had to learn to use the TTC, to navigate a new alphabet, and learn how and where to purchase their food. Pita, says Sinclair, was a staple of the family’s diet. However they were not able to find a brand of pita that was right for the Syrian family and went through 40 brands before finding one that was just right. Once they found the best option, they bought a full garbage bag of the product.

MSRI’s obligations to the family were supposed to wrap up this year; however, one of the family members didn’t arrive in Canada until the spring of 2019. The group continues to work with this individual to help him adjust to his new life. 

According to a federal government website, “Canada will resettle 29,950 refugees from abroad through our various programs in 2019, with 19,000 arriving through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program. This is quadruple the number of privately sponsored refugees that Canada resettled prior to 2015.”

“They invited us out two months ago for a big thank you dinner,” says Sinclair. “It was huge, a humongous amount of food…They’re in charge of their lives now and that’s the point.” Murdoch says he would do it all over again, given the opportunity. 

“They keep saying ‘thank you.’ I just keep saying to them, ‘don’t thank us, just get on your feet, become independent, and give back whenever you can,’” Murdoch said. “It’s sort of the Canadian way. And we’ve seen already that they’re really working hard to become independent and part of the fabric of the country.”

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