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‘I’m not scared of the virus’: He survived war in Syria. Now this refugee worries about keeping up with English lessons

‘I’m not scared of the virus’: He survived war in Syria. Now this refugee worries about keeping up with English lessons
Canada
Now, with the world under siege as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic , the Toronto man says what he fears most is not the novel coronavirus, but keeping up with his English lessons.

And thanks to the Together Project — and modern technology — not only is Abd able to practise his language skills, he and his family can also stay connected with volunteers of his welcome group and get support while in social isolation.

“It is not easy to be in the house all the time and the kids get bored,” said Abd, 49, who arrived in Canada last June with his wife, two boys and two girls as government-assisted refugees.

“If you compare this to our experience in Turkey and Syria, where we feared of dying all the time, this is 100 times better because of the support of our Canadian friends.”

While it is hard enough for ordinary Canadians to stay on top of the rapidly changing crisis and dealing with the new normal, newcomers are faced with the extra barriers in accessing information and support because they have little English and few friends, says Anna Hill, a co-director of the Together Project, which matches volunteers with newcomer families to help with their integration.

“The pandemic affects everyone and it’s difficult for all of us to adapt to the new social distancing reality even though we have lived in Canada and have neighbours and friends that we know well,” said Hill, whose group has matched 130 newcomer families with volunteers since 2017.

“Maintaining social contact is a major challenge for all, but newcomers, particularly refugees, are among the most vulnerable. We want to ensure they have access to accurate information and social connection.”

Since the pandemic has escalated in Canada with school closures and government officials limiting social interaction on March 13, Hill’s group has suspended in-person meetings between volunteers and their matched families and scrambled to move their activities online. Volunteer screening and training has also been moved online while the office is closed.

Hill’s co-director Andrew Lusztyk, who conducted a need assessment last week, said the families are concerned about maintaining social connection and worry about the health of the elderly, access to food and basic necessities, and keeping their kids engaged while in isolation.
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