Eculinks - Resources for Refugee

By Barbara Sheffield

ECULINKS Offers Resources
for Refugee Sponsors

By Barbara Sheffield

MANY CONGREGATIONS ARE committed to the grueling but rewarding work of refugee sponsorship. As those involved in the frontlines of such work know, it is infinitely complex, with sponsors often navigating the intricacies of government bureaucracy with little prior knowledge or guidance. Ecumenical Links Etobicoke (ECULINKS) is here to change that. It offers information sharing and training for refugee sponsors, among other things.

ECULINKS was launched 10 years ago by Thom Norris of Royal York Road United Church in Toronto. The goal was to bring together like-minded people from churches in central Etobicoke, a suburb of Toronto, to share information and collaborate on outreach and justice issues. Representatives from a number of United, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches have been talking and collaborating ever since.

The organization’s recent initiative was launched in partnership with Islington United Church’s 38-year-old refugee ministry. Through a survey of 65 Etobicoke churches, ECULINKS was able to gather information about refugee sponsors for Syrian newcomers. It discovered that there was strong interest in information sharing and training for refugee sponsors. The positive response led to a further partnership with the Arab Community Centre of Toronto.

During the last year, ECULINKS has offered four free workshops at Islington United Church. Each workshop has attracted close to 100 participants. To date, the workshops have focused on understanding Syrian culture, identifying health issues, creating an employment strategy, and preparing for “month 13”. “The two workshops I attended were exceptional,” said Carol Warnica, who drove from Barrie to Etobicoke in a snowstorm for one of them. “The speakers brought us personal experience and the roundtable discussions led to best practices that can be shared with others. My only regret is that I missed the first two.”

A future workshop on family dynamics and integrating Syrian women into Canadian culture is scheduled for September 30, 2017. According to Peter Lindsay, workshop co-chair, “word has spread through United Church Toronto Conference, Anglican Church Toronto Diocese, Catholic Church Toronto Diocese, among others, about these workshops, with attendees coming from as far away as Barrie, Niagara Falls and Prince Edward County.

Attendees would like to have more opportunities like this in the coming months.” A database of some 200 people has been established as the Etobicoke Network of Refugee Sponsors; individuals are now sharing information and problem-solving through the network. “We aim to provide a ‘train the trainer’ experience to offer sponsors developed best practices in key areas of sponsorship and to leverage the vast social networks of our network members,” says Mahmoud Allouch, a member of the workshop organizing committee who is from Syria. Without such knowledge, the job of refugee sponsorship would assuredly be much more difficult at a time when the need is greater than ever.

Barbara Sheffield is a member of ECULINKS Etobicoke and Islington United Church. She is co-chair of the workshop organizing committee.