Settling into a New Home

As you know from my blog last week,  the Almanaked family arrived last Monday morning.   As they came through from immigration they look tired and overwhelmed.  I can’t imagine how it would feel to leave your country, home, family, and friends, move to a strange and different place that you know very little about, and are unable to understand or speak the language.  

As you saw in the photos, they received a warm welcome with signs, happy faces, and small gifts.  Most importantly, we had members of our group who were able to communicate with the family in Arabic: Melad, Azza, and their two boys who are close in age to our family’s two boys.   With the help of many we managed to transport the family to their new address in Etobicoke – it is a challenge to move a family of six particularly when two car seats and two booster seats are needed for every move but we have a group of dedicated support workers.  

Once home, we  provide them with a welcome lunch and introduction to the apartment before leaving them to sleep and adjust to their new surroundings.

Tuesday morning the work started.  With the help of the Dugas family and friends, and the Markos family, our Syrian family spent the next four days going through the exhausting process of appointments, meetings, and shopping for essentials.  The committee has done a fantastic job of helping our family to feel welcome and comfortable in their new home.  Gill has written a detailed account of the past week which I have copied and pasted her blog along with photos. All of this could not have been accomplished without their help and support – THANK YOU!

Odyssey to Canada

Almanaked Family:  Zeinab, Chady, Hamza, (9) Yousef, (6) Sara (2. 3 months) and Sadil (1. 2 months)

I am Gillian Dugas and along with Andre Dugas, Samantha Dugas, Azza Markos and Melad Markos we are the settlement committee for our newcomer family. Also with wonderful help from Kit Fraser who assembled a lot of furniture for our family’s home and donated over a thousand dollars of new items for our family and Melanie who donated all the girls’ clothing and toys.

As you know Andre, Samantha and I were with the Department of Foreign Affairs and lived 25 years in 11 overseas assignments and Azza and Melad are Egyptians who were refugees 3 years ago along with their two sons Sam & Ruben. Melad has a PH.D from Cairo University and presently attending university in Toronto .      Azza and Melad have been working to assist Syrian refugees who recently arrived in Toronto and staying in the Etobicoke area by taking them through all the procedures, medical visits and shopping.   They are also assisting Iraqi, Afghani and Iranians who are also new to Etobicoke.

Meld and Azza live 5 minutes walk from our family – they have visited the Almanaked family every day to check on them even between our group outings together, and taken them back to their house (socializing and meals) and to the local parks.     The boys play together as they are the same ages.

Tuesday, June 21. At 10:00 – School Registration.   Gill stayed with the two girls Sara and Sadil.   Andre and Samantha joined Melad and Azza and drove Zeinab, Chady, Hamza and Yousef to Rivercrest School.     Rivercrest School’s Principal Ms. Roach immediately welcomed the family and they went through the initial registration process.   The registration forms were provided at this time.     A quick tour of the school was also provided.   Ms. Roach recommended the boys begin school the next day (Wednesday).

2:00 Medical Assessment Gill had already set up medical assessment for the whole family at Rexdale CHC who have a special refugee assessment program.     After eating together, the three cars took all the family to Rexdale CHC. Gill completed the medical forms and Melad and Azza translated while Andre and Samantha cared for the children in the waiting room as each person was given an initial exam.    At this time follow up appointments were given for each member to attend the Rexdale Clinic in Rexdale Shopping Plaza to see the Rexdale CHC doctor.

4:00 Returned to family home.     Girls went to sleep.   Boys went to play.   Gill and Andre sat with family along with Azza and Melad to discuss their immediate needs…..   Gill and Andre went shopping. Samantha went to get two school backpacks and lunch bags (donated by son Lincoln) prepared with lunch, snacks and water bottle at her home…. Purchased food from Loblaw’s that evening.   Samantha and Gill completed the many registration papers (at least 2 hours) and got Chady and Zeinab to sign.   Melad went to scan all official documents.     Melad also arranged for English translation of necessary documents and papers.     Melad and Andre contacted apartment owner over rental lease.

Wednesday, June 22.   Andre and Gill had to get the filled backpacks from Samantha’s house at 7:45 a.m.. 8:15: Collected Hamza and Yousef (for their first day of school) along with Chady.   Gill provided all the completed forms to the Administrator Ms. Andersen, and greeted each of the grade teachers.     Also provided signed parents’ permission slip and $10 for Yousef to go on a field trip with his SK class on Thursday to Downey’s Farm.     A very friendly Arabic student (Yassim) translated for Yousef and Hamza….(bathroom, lunch/snack times, recess etc.).       Hamza is in Grade 3 and Yousef in SK.     Hamza and Yousef were extremely brave and polite to everyone.   Samantha had provided all the clothing for Hamza and Yousef including shoes and hats.

8:50:   Gill and Andre went back to speak to Zainab and Chady to reassure them their sons were OK. Gill and Andre purchased more food for school lunch boxes for Thursday and Friday.  All the children love bananas and apples.     Samantha went shopping for bed rails for girls’ bed.     Azza and Melad joined family bringing over treats. They took girls for a walk in a double stroller that Samantha purchased.

11:30:   Gill went to collect Hamza from school so he could attend the Rexdale Clinic doctor’s appointment.     The first doctor’s appointment was for Zeinab, Hamza and Sara. Chady stayed home with baby Sadil who was sleeping.     Andre, Gill and Melad drove in two cars to the Rexdale Shopping Plaza to introduce Zeinab to an incredibly large, ethnically diverse, supermarket with discount prices and halal products.     Zeinab went down every aisle talking to Melad over prices and availability.   Andre and Gill walked with the children.     Zeinab decided on her purchases and she did the transaction herself (using cash) – this supermarket only takes debit or cash.   We had a quick snack and went to check two phone providers for information and walked around the Plaza.

2:00   We went into the doctor’s clinic in the Rexdale Plaza for appointments.   The doctor examined each family member with Melad translating. Andre and Gill cared for the children while the mother was speaking to the doctor.   Each child (Hamza and Sara) and Zeinab got their vaccinations (first ever) and their vaccination papers. I will explain that the clinic decides on who they will see and when…. The appointment for Chady, Sadil and Yousef is scheduled on Wednesday.     All the costs of the medical appointments are covered.       We returned to family home around 4 p.m.     Chady had collected Yousef from school.   Melad and Azza came back to the family after dinner and took them out to their home and local park.

Thursday, June 23:   Chady took boys to school along with Melad.   Andre and Gill took over more fruit, biscuits and clothing.     Melad and Azza invited Chady, Zeinab, Sadil, Sara, Andre, Gill and Samantha and her son Lincoln to lunch at their home.   Azza cooked a wonderful meal and we sat talking and relaxing.   At around 2:00 Samantha offered to purchase new clothing for Zeinab (who had very little in the three small bags).   Azza, Gill, Samantha and Zeinab went shopping for two hours..   Samantha purchased two dresses (worn over the basic covering) , three pairs of long, black type tights and underwear plus two very inexpensive handbags.   Zeinab loves handbags (and looks lovingly at them) and considering how little she has had in her life she was overwhelmed at all the purchases and hugged and kissed Samantha many times.   Samantha and I realised from listening to Azza translate how incredibly hard life has been for the whole family.   Food was in great shortage and all the children are malnourished along with the father, Chady.   Little Sadil was on breast milk to keep up her weight.       Samantha, Zeinab and Azza all have young children around the same age so they can talk about private matters.   Of course we are providing them with lots of food now and also helping them to learn to shop themselves but it will take time to bring up their weight.   The children eat all the time especially fruit, yoghurt and snacks of bread and pita.   When we returned, Azza told Samantha that Zeinab wanted to take Sadil off breast milk immediately and she needed special bottles so Samantha rushed out to get them.  Samantha also gave a huge bag of donated shoes for the boys.   We have found several pairs that fit both boys.

Friday June 24:   Andre had contacted OHIP for general info and location.   Many discussions with the landlord and lots more…   The Rexdale doctor had set up appointments for Zeinab and Hamza to have blood tests at a small clinic opposite Albion Mall.   At 9:00 Gill, Andre, and Melad took Zeinab and Hamza to the clinic.     Gill went in the cubicle with Zeinab and Melad with Hamza.   They were incredibly brave and it was their first time to give blood.   While we were sitting in the clinic Melad, who talks in Arabic and English, to our family all the time …asked Hamza what did you learn in school yesterday and he counted to 10 in English and he said”   May I have an apple please”.   The boys can understand very quickly and so can Chady who said to me “come inside please” and many other small words.     It is amazing how fast they are picking up English.     At 11:00, after a quick snack, with the boys in school, the rest of the family along with Azza and Melad, Andre and Gill, Norma and Lloyd went to CIBC.   Andre, Melad, Lloyd and Chady attended the meeting at first to get through the initial setting up of accounts.   Azza, Gill and Norma were outside with the two girls and Zeinab until she went to sign and understand the banking. This took a long time to complete – Melad showed Chady the ATM but it will take many more times with Melad to understand all this for the first time.     At this point, Andre, Gill took Azza and Zeinab grocery shopping which turned into an hour while Gill took care of Sadil outside.     Everyone met back at the family apartment to discuss budgets and more details with Melad translating for several more hours.   Gill went to collect the two boys from school.

A lot more has happened but these are the main points.     Melad and Azza have become close friends with Chady and Zeinab and they talk on the phone and visit each other (walking a few minutes).   Today, Saturday, Samantha purchased two black, long sleeved tops that Zeinab requested urgently and provided a child’s bike (donated) which is pink and a small trolley for the babies.   Samantha also managed, after 3 tries, to get the correct bed railing for the girls’ bed.   Andre and I found three pretty party dresses for the girls for the Ramadan celebration along with two new summer dresses and a hat. Also there is small Mac’s Milk (Arabic owner), pharmacy (Arabic pharmacist) and other stores within 4 minutes walk from the Almanaked’s home. The bus is a few minutes’ walk.

Melad introduced our family to an Egyptian family living on the same street at No. 12.   We met the family when they were visiting today – they brought over baked treaties for everyone.

Just a little note:   The school said that the boys love soccer and to run…..the grade teacher told me that Yousef was very disappointed when he didn’t win his race in school.       That is wonderfully natural for boys.   From what I observed each time I was at the school…sometimes they didn’t know I was standing there (as the school is closed and locked) the teachers are very calm and speaking in a polite and informative way to all the students. I am so impressed.     I have seen the staff smile and give great attention and care to Hamza and Yousef.

Andre and I are working today to get information for the boys to attend summer camp (just a few minutes away) .   The fees are around $135 for each child for one week.

School finishes on June 29.     I spoke yesterday to Principal Ms Roach who came out to meet me when I collected the boys on Friday.  She said Rivercrest School was very pleased to have the boys and handed me two bags of clothes.   I expressed how thoughtful that was and to thank her and her staff for their support and great concern for the boys (and kindness) at which time Mrs. Roach said the school will do more for the whole family in the new school year.

We will do the OHIP next week along with the next doctor’s appointments (vaccinations) for Sadil, Chady and Yousef and no doubt some follow up blood tests.   After the results of the blood tests we will have more doctor’s appointments.   I know they are coming and we are ready.      And Lloyd will do the RAP interview once he gets the day and time…coming soon.     The Library will be next week and a visit to the local Community Center (a few minutes away) to check out their summer programs.     We will also take the family to see the local ESL programs for information.  We do more than I can tell you…. Everything is happening naturally with kindness and dignity…. They are surrounded by people that care and are looking out for them in every way.

Requests:        BIKES for the boys.   We are looking for bikes for Hamza (9) and Yousef (6).   I have given a donated bike however it is a girl’s bike (bright pink) with a basket and bell.   It will be fine for now but would love bikes.    The boys are fascinated by Lincoln’s I-Pad…… they sit watching while he speaks in English showing them the programs and apps.      We have lots of small toys and books at this time.

Chady and Zeinab had a very old, beaten up smart phone in Lebanon.   I believe it belonged to a family member or friend.   It was given to them in the last weeks before departure.   They took photos of their family in the days before they left.   Somehow, when they arrive at Pearson Airport it no longer works.   Andre, I and Melad have taken the phone to 4 different local places but they claim the phone is completely broken…one said the motherboard is fried.   This is causing Chady and Zeinab to be very sad.   They are longing for the photos.   They ask us over and over again to get the photos.   We do not want a new phone because Norma is getting that .. I am asking if there is anyone who knows of a person who can try to work magic by getting the phone to release the photos.

Zeinab & Azza 2

Azza & Zeinab shopping for essentials 




I don’t know where to start to say THANK YOU! to all of those who have made this possible.  Starting with our Sponsorship Agreement Holder, Rosedale United Church, Claude Hould, Chair of  the Rosedale United Church Refugee Committee, and his wife Linda.  I want to thank the donors who opened their wallets, and those who donated in kind, that enabled us to completely furnish a three bedroom apartment.  All of this could not have been done without the help of so many people that said “yes” when we needed help.   It has been a roller coaster ride filled with so many emotions.  This all could not have happened without the support of each and everyone of you – THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts!

We were finally given the date of our family’s arrival at the end of May – we had less than three weeks to find accommodations and set it up.  Gill, Andre, and their daughter Samantha along with Melad and his wife, Azzis, went into action.  They took on the job of finding a three bedroom apartment in Etobicoke – a near impossible task!  Four days before our family’s arrival something was finally found.  From there everything that had been in storage for the past four months had to be moved into the apartment.  Furniture had to be organized, beds had to be purchased and set-up (IKEA),  and boxes of donations had to be sorted with the missing items purchased just in time.

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On Thursday morning, June 16th, the move began and by Sunday night, June 19th,  thanks to a phenomenal set-up crew,  Gill, Andre, Samantha, Kit, Melad and Azzis the set-up was complete, the fridge and cupboards were stocked, and all was ready for Monday morning’s arrival.  

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The work has now begun.  Monday’s arrival was a little overwhelming for the family, who do not speak or understand English.  After lunch and a short orientation, they were left to adjust to their new home and a much needed rest.

Tuesday morning, the Dugas family along with other members of our team, Melad, Azzis, and Samantha, began the task of integrating the family into the community.  The children were taken to a health clinic where they received a complete check-up, were registered in the neighbourhood school where they were warmly welcomed and will be attending for the rest of this year and next September (…and they are going on a school field trip this morning).  

The family was taken around and given an orientation to the neighbourhood and introduced to the shops and facilities in the area.

This has all been a whirlwind of activity.  It has all been a success because of the generosity and kindness of everyone of you – thank you again and again.

I will keep you posted as we move along helping these new members of our Canadian family to adapt and become contributing members of this wonderful country. 

The Odyssey Begins

Hi everyone;

After almost 8 months the Odyssey to Canada begins.  Chady and his family were given flight details today: Air Egypt leaving Lebanon on June 19 and arriving in Toronto early on June 20.  The Matching Centre in Winnipeg sent me their contact information late last week.  Gil and Andre contacted Melad the interpreter that they have been working with and a phone call was placed to the family on Monday.  They sounded great and are looking forward to the journey.

I am excited and feeling a little intimidated by all the things that need to be done in preparation for their arrival.  Gil, Andre, and Melad are looking for a three bedroom accommodation close to the West Mall in Etobicoke – keeping in mind that it must be within walking distance of shopping, schools, and transportation.  Once they find something and we are able to confirm with the family, we hope to get it rented so we can move all the furniture we have out of the storage unit and into their home.

There isn’t a lot more to do until we find a home for Chady and his family.  Once that is done, we will need some help preparing the home for their arrival and I will call on you.

I hope you are as excited as we are  – it is been a long wait but I truly believe that this is a family we will be able to help to make the difficult adjustment.  I can’t imagine having to leave everything, your home, your friends, family, and culture because of a war –  Chady and his wife were living in Aleppo – a city that has been totally destroyed.  We have to remember that their move here will not be easy.  They will have all different kinds of feelings and emotions: anxiety, anticipation, sadness, happiness, gratitude, and the list goes on.    Our challenge is to make sure that they feel welcome and to help them make the adjustment to a very different way of life.  I feel confident that we are up to the challenge and thank everyone of you for coming along on the journey with us.

I will write more as we move along – Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

As for our needs at the moment – we have a lot of furniture but there are a few holes.  We don’t have beds for the boys, Hamza 9 and Yousef 6 (we are thinking bunk beds), or a crib for the 1 year old, Sadil.  As we began our preparation, there will be a lot of things we haven’t even thought of yet – it is all part of the journey – thanks again for joining us.  

Stay tuned for updates 🙂

Great News!

Posted on April 19, 2016 by Norma Davis
Hi everyone – we finally, some good news. We have been matched with a family. Late Friday night, the night before we left for a 5 week vacation, I received confirmation from the Government of Canada’s Matching Center that we had been matched with Zekeriya Sai from Syria, his wife, and four children, 2 boys 8 and 6, and two girls 2 and 1. Zelkeriya and his family are currently living in Lebanon – I don’t know much more for the moment. There were lots of papers to fill out, sign, and return before we left so I did not have time to get this out.

We are excited and looking forward to welcoming them. However, we have no idea when that will be – the documents we received said they are travel ready? Lloyd and I are hoping it won’t be before we get home on May 20th. If it does happen, we feel confident that Gill and Andre will do a great job of pulling everybody together and looking after them.

I will fill in more information as we receive it. This has been a frustrating journey – now the work begins.

Thanks to all of those who supported me in this venture – your support is what kept me going.


February 2016

Welcome to Canada

First, I want to apologies for not posting any updates since Christmas. I have been hoping that we would be Welcoming a family to Canada and I would be writing to tell you all about them and how they were adapting to their new home here in Toronto.

Welcome 2

Unfortunately, the government has been very slow to offer Blended Visa Office Referred (BVOR), for sponsorship. It appears the government has been focusing on Government Assisted Refugees, (GARs): those who are most vulnerable and requiring the greatest level of support. This includes large families of up to 13 or more.

 BVOR is a program that matches refugees identified by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The goal is to engage in a 3-way partnership between the Government of Canada, the UNHCR, and private sponsors (us). If we stay with BVOR the government will provide up to 6 months of income support (worth approximately $10,000) and cover the flight to get them here (which could again be as high as $10,000).  The majority of the Groups such as ours that have come together to sponsor families are under the BVOR program.

 We have been offered the option of doing a named private sponsorship (PSR). This would mean no help from the government and I have heard that as of the end of February we would have to cover the cost of the flight.   An additional consideration is that some of the private sponsorships are economic refugees – not families escaping from refugee camps.

 I am trying to keep our options open and hoping that there will be an increase in the number of BVORs being offered soon. In the meantime, we continue to prepare. We have collected household items, linens, kitchen supplies, and some furniture. A big thank you goes out to Lisa & Paul Denhartog, and to Nadia Kainiev from S & Sons Moving for helping us to get our collection to warehouse space that has been so generously offered by Rotarian Neil Phillips from DGN Marketing Services. We could not have done it without their help and support.

 I will continue to attend meetings, monitor the situation, and keep you posted. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Thanks again to everyone for your support and your patience.



Happy Holiday Season!


As we wait for news of our family, Committee Members are busy pulling together all that will be needed to welcome them to this wonderful country.  We continue raising funds, searching for suitable accommodations, along with collecting household items and furniture.  This is the time of year to look back and be thankful for all we have – we are so fortunate.  

We especially want to give thanks to those who have been so generous with the financial support that has enabled us to reach out to families who have so little and have been through so much – THANK YOU!   We could not do it without you. 

We would like to wish all of you a very Happy Holiday Season filled with the love of family and friends and good health and prosperity in the coming year.

We will keep you posted – as soon as we get news, it will be published.

Norma, Chair Odyssey to Canada 

December 07 – Status Report




As we watch the news and see refugees arriving and being settled in different parts of the country, I am sure you are wondering where our family is: when we will find out who they are, and when they will be arriving.

I have been to three related meetings this week and I want you to know that all is moving along well. We have submitted the required MOU (Memorandum of Understanding between the Church and Settlement Groups) that was holding up the opening up of the bank accounts and have submitted all the necessary documents – we now wait for the next step.

According to AURA, the agency submitting the documents to the government, the bottleneck is the government’s clearing of the Blended Visa Office Referred applicants (BVOR) – the refugees who are being brought in under the private group sponsorships such as ours. The refugees we are seeing on the news are the government and private individual sponsorships that have been in the pipeline for a long time.

I have been told that our application will go in and that there will be BVOR applicants the first of January. I understand it is difficult to wait and I too am anxious to keep this moving.

I want you to know that I will stay on top of this and will do everything in my power to keep it moving forward.

I also want to thank you for the support we have received and for your patience with all of this.

I promise to keep you posted and let you know as soon as there is any movement.

Have a wonderful Holiday Season and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.


Getting Closer

syref15This is just a short update to let you know we are working hard at moving the process along.  We received a small grant from the United Church of Canada which means we will have a small cushion for our family and the the possible ability to take a couple more family members if needed.

We have also received a generous offer from Neil Phillips of a place to store furniture and household items that we are collecting for our families – THANK YOU Neil!  We just have to figure out how to pick it up and get it there 🙂  If you have household items or furniture to donate, we would love to hear from you.   Duplicates and extras will be shared with the other Committees under the Rosedale Untied Church umbrella that are supporting families.

I am expecting that our application will be submitted by the end of the week.  We are setting up a meeting of the Settlement Workers within the next couple of weeks to assign tasks and make some decisions on the best areas of the city to focus our energies.

Thank you to all of you for your support both financially and emotionally – this is a wonderful journey we are all on!


Meeting with Chairs of Sponsorship Committees

Hi there, we are moving forward, slowly but surely.

On Sunday, Claude, Chair of the Rosedale Refugee Committee, held a meeting of the Refugee Sponsoring Committee Chairs. We came together to identify where we are at and to set-up ways that we can support each other through the sharing of information – 3 of the 14 groups are ready to make application.

Odyssey to Canada has completed all the required training and security background checks. We have the minimum of $40,000 in cheques ready to be deposited as soon as the bank account is set up – Claude feels that it would be nice if we had a bit of a cushion, to cover unforeseen expenses and possibly the airfare expenses that our family will be faced with as soon as they land in Canada, so please don’t hesitate to accept further financial support if you find someone willing to give a donation.

As for when we can expect to submit our application? Claude is meeting with the financial group working to set-up the bank accounts this week. Apparently, all that is needed is a Memorandum of Agreement to be set-up and signed. Once that is done our funds will be deposited and our application will go to AURA – hopefully by the end of this week.

The group discussed some of the challenges that we will be facing us as the families arrive: temporary accommodation, household items, etc.   At the moment, we have had numerous offers of household items but we have no place to collect and store these items. If any of you know of where we might find storage space, I would be happy to hear from you.

I will attempt to keep you posted as we move along – once the application has been submitted we will have another meeting to set up tasks and responsibilities.

Thanks again for all your support and you commitment.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions, or suggestions.

Thank you to all!

Thank you to all!

This will be a short blog to let you know that we have achieved our financial goal of $40,000 -THANK YOU to all who have helped us get there. Our fundraising goal continues; we would be more than happy to accept further donations – the $40K is the minimum amount needed. Any surplus will go to help our family with the bill for the airfare they will be given once they arrive or we could agree to take a family of 6 rather than 4 – we promise to keep you posted and updated on how your donations are being used.

I am meeting with Claude Hould and the Chairs of the 9 other Sponsoring Committees on Sunday. We will be meeting to report on our status and talk about the tasks ahead for all of us.