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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

CAMH community to sponsor Syrian refugee family

The CAMH Board of Trustees has set in motion the process to sponsor a Syrian refugee family displaced by war.

“The CAMH community has a strong sense of social justice, a need to be involved, and a strategic goal to drive social change,” said Board Chair Kelly Meighen. Many people at CAMH have been haunted by the stories of these refugees and the scale of the crisis, she said.

“The Board has said: ‘We’re in.’ We will lead by example starting with individual commitments from Board members,” Kelly said. CAMH employees will also have the opportunity to make personal donations towards the $45,000 minimum cost of sponsoring the family, who will settle in Toronto.

The Board will partner with the provincially-funded organization Lifeline Syria to make it happen.

Syrian refugee family
Lifeline Syria: The organization notes that after five years of civil war “almost 12 million Syrian people – fully half the country’s population – are homeless. These include seven million internally displaced people inside Syria and four million refugees outside the country who have little hope of returning to Syria safely.”

In addition, a small coordinating group is being struck to help ensure the family gets the support they need beyond the initial arrival in Canada. “We know that in the first year of settlement, following initial elation and joy experienced by the family, there will also be periods of isolation and adjustment, and many logistics around establishing a home, finding caregivers, and feeling part of their new community,” Kelly said.

Canada’s new federal government has committed to a plan to resettle 25,000 Syrians by January 1, 2016 “and is counting on private sponsors to account for a significant portion of that figure,” Lifeline Syria notes. This goal recalls “Canada’s incredible response to the Indochinese Refugee Movement of 1979, when Canadians successfully resettled 60,000 Vietnamese ‘boat people’.”

Kelly Meighen
“We’re in!”: CAMH Board of Trustees Chair Kelly Meighen

A key player in the CAMH initiative is Ratna Omidvar, who joined the CAMH Board of Trustees earlier this year. Founding Executive Director of the Global Diversity Exchange (GDX) and Adjunct Professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University, Ratna is also Chair of the Lifeline Syria Steering Committee.

Ratna Omidvar
“CAMH can both give and receive:” Trustee Ratna Omidvar

“The CAMH initiative enables the people at CAMH to come together and pool their financial, social and emotional assets to provide a fresh start to a Syrian refugee family,” Ratna said. At the same time, CAMH will also provide services to the traumatized refugee community, learning about the conditions of refugees and positioning culturally relevant services. “We can take the lead to build robust lives for our newest residents.”

“In this way, CAMH can both give and receive,” Ratna said.

The initiative also builds on CAMH’s Refugee Mental Health Project, which aims to enhance settlement, social and health service providers' knowledge and skills regarding refugee mental health -- and to promote inter-sector and inter-professional collaboration.

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