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Bundling up for Canadian winter

Thorncliffe Park residents Amjad Alhayak, wife Roaa & son Ward shop for winter coats. Photo by Jennifer Rajasekar.

Thorncliffe Park residents Amjad Alhayak, wife Roaa & son Ward shop for winter coats. Photo by Jennifer Rajasekar.

There are some 200-plus Syrian refugees now living in the Thorncliffe Park Drive area who are facing their first full Canadian winter, according to Mohamed Edris, settlement counsellor for the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office.

“Winter is a very challenging time for the newcomers so their first priority is winter clothing,” he said.

Among the new arrivals are Amjad Alhayak, his wife Roaa, and four-year-old son Ward, who arrived in June. They have been busy shopping for coats and boots with money provided by an anonymous donor.

“We really appreciate the interest and concern everyone has shown about our first winter in Canada,” he said. “We have snow in Syria, but I guess the winter here will be much different than in my country. After the help we have received, we are ready to welcome the winter.”

“We would also like to thank the donor of the money to buy our warm clothes,” Amjad added.

The Alhayaks’ journey to Canada was not a straightforward one. “Actually, after what happened in Syria we felt very unsafe,” Amjad said. “I decided to leave with my family, so the first step I took was to go to Turkey. We lived there for some time, but it was difficult.

“We were able to find a private sponsor in Canada and they helped us to come here. I like the atmosphere and I feel much better.”

Facing Canada’s often harsh winters is tough, but the major issue remains finding a job. Both Amjad and Roaa are highly qualified professionals with a fairly good command of English.

Amjad has a degree in business and economics, and he was employed as a risk management officer for the Aga Khan Foundation in Syria. Here in Canada he is working temporarily as a cashier until he finds something more in line with his qualifications. Roaa, a chemical engineer, is hoping to restart her career here.

The federal government is also looking for ways to help newcomers like the Alhayaks settle into their communities.

Documents posted recently by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada show the department is planning to spend as much as $250,000 for new studies on how best to integrate Syrian refugees into their new community.

“It is well known that newcomers face a number of barriers in finding employment that is commensurate with their skills and experience. Refugees, in particular, may have more difficulty integrating into the Canadian labour market when compared to other categories of immigrants,” the documents say.

“Refugees face many employment barriers such as lack of Canadian or other relevant work experience, lack of professional networks, and unfamiliarity with Canadian workplace culture.”

Along with finding work, refugees face many other challenges in settling into their new country. The Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office provides support through a wide array of programs. The bustling community service agency offers English language instruction, youth services, health care, school readiness, homework clubs and even Zumba for women and yoga for dads.

Amjad is confident he will find a better job soon, and added, “We feel safe here, and my son will have a good future.”

For now the family is stocking up on winter supplies and looking forward with enthusiasm to their new lives.