Last Saturday, UTM’s Centre for Student Engagement and the Dixie Bloor Neighbourhood Centre held a workshop titled “Toolbox to Canada,” to introduce services available in Canada to Syrian refugees, as well as discuss topics such as mental health and offer career advice.

Dana Britton, a programming assistant at the CSE and fifth-year psychology and sociology student, stated that “the goal of these workshops is to provide refugees with tools to help them succeed in Canada.”

“The Dixie Bloor Neighbourhood Centre realized that some refugees weren’t aware of certain resources available to them in the Peel Region, so we created this workshop series to help inform them.”

The organizations involved in coordinating the workshops are the Dixie Bloor Neighbourhood Centre and the Polycultural Immigrant and Community Services Centre. The workshops included speakers from several UTM departments, including the Health and Counselling Centre. Along with the UTM community, other organizations within the community are taking part, such as the YMCA. The workshop was held at the Polycultural Immigrant and Community Services Centre in the Erin Mills area. According to Britton, around 30-35 people signed up to attend the workshop. The volunteers are required to assist with the workshops themselves and help with translating.

Britton went on to explain that the workshops “will be followed by a networking lunch […]. The networking lunch will allow [the participants] to speak with specialists in certain areas, as well as students who are familiar with the resources in Peel Region.”

For further accommodation, Britton stated that “there will be children’s programs simultaneously.” Among the children’s activities are arts and crafts and improv games.

Although the organizers of the event were expecting around 30 to 35 attendees based on registration numbers, an unfortunate snow storm on the morning of the event reduced the amount of families that showed up. That being said, families who were in attendance showed nothing but gratitude to both the student volunteers and the guest speakers present.

The event consisted of three workshops that ran from 12 to 3 p.m. The first was “Staying Healthy,” which featured speakers by UTM’s Health and Counselling Centre as well as the YMCA. The second workshop was run by St. George medical students, and was called “I am Sick? Now what do I do?” The workshop focused on how immigrants should go about accessing Ontario’s health care services. According to Britton, this workshop dealt with “being sick in Canada and the types of resources available.

By far the most attended workshop was the last one, run by the YMCA, called “Working in Canada: where to start.” Britton stated that this workshop was “dedicated to working in Canada and employment resources.” The workshop focused on providing tips to create a strong resume and cover letter, as well as where to search for local job postings. Translators were present throughout the workshops to help smooth over any points that were unclear.

All of the student volunteers who attended the event were invited to write their name and languages they spoke on their name tags. This facilitated discussion, and led to more interaction between the immigrants and the volunteers. Several student volunteers spoke Arabic, which was a popular language among those who attended. Many of the families who came to the workshop brought young children who were already developing their command of the English language, and were not shy at all when interacting with the volunteers.

Although the event didn’t have as high of an attendance as was expected, all those in attendance assured the volunteers that their efforts were appreciated. The event was an opportunity to spend time in an environment that was inclusive and encouraging towards new fellow Canadians.