By Paula Greene

I immigrated to Canada nearly 13 years ago. I made a proactive choice, could speak the language and had friends to welcome me and I still found it one of the most challenging experiences as I struggled to find connection in a new country and community.

As we welcome hundreds of new neighbours from Syria it is hard to imagine how much harder that transition is set against a background of violence and trauma and with language barriers. The top challenges facing refugees and immigrants are: language, housing, employment, access to services such as legal, health and mental health.

It seemed timely to reflect on the work done at JBCP to welcome refugees and immigrant families to our community. For many years we have sought to be a safe place for children and their caregivers from across the world through the Welcome Playgroup. The aim of the group is to access community support and health services as well as developing a social network for parents.

Through referrals from the Inter-Cultural Association of Victoria, the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre and Island Health refugee and immigrant families have the opportunity to talk with a public health nurse and a dental hygienist from Island Health once per month. Families  (with children 0-5) can find out about available services, make new friends, share information about resources, find support and connect with other newcomers in the community. The Welcome is run weekly every Friday from 9-11.15 am. During the past year, we are proud to have served 75 different families that included multi-generational family members from 25 different countries.

What the families report as most valuable is that they feel at home and are able to meet new people. They also appreciate that they can get support with their children and can mix with families from different backgrounds.  One family said that because of the Welcome Playgroup they ‘Have felt at home from week one in Victoria’ whilst another said that they ‘Feel more welcomed and comfortable in the community’.

Whilst we are not expecting to see refugee families in crisis right away at JBCP we hope once they feel safe enough in our community to welcome them as we have done many other families and that they discover the same sense of community, kinship and connection that makes the Welcome Playgroup so special.

Funding in the past has been generously provided by the Vancouver Foundation but we currently are without funding for this program. If you wish to offer your support please contact Paula Greene: pgreene@jbcp.bc.ca/250.388.7844 ext. 309.

To get more information about supporting Syrian Refugees in Victoria please contact the Inter-Cultural Association of Victoria at helprefugees@icavictoria.org