Photo by Kayla Isomura.
When any crisis occurs, it tends to heavily impact those who already face multiple barriers in society. Through grants from Vancouver Foundation’s Community Response Fund (CRF), the following three charities were able to support and stay connected to their clients, who are refugees or immigrants to Canada, as they navigate a new way of life amid a pandemic.
African Women’s Health Services Society (AWHSS) supports African refugee and immigrant women. With a CRF grant, AWHSS was able to stay in touch with their members from the start of the pandemic, sending gift cards, masks, and hand sanitizer. “At least they knew we were there to check on them,” explains Founder and Executive Director Jeanne-Suzanna Inabeza.
Another serious issue that some of their members faced was domestic violence, which spiked during the pandemic and is a taboo subject in African culture. So, the relationships AWHSS had developed with each of its members was especially critical. “They open up to Babyta [AWHSS coordinator] because they trust her. It’s really rare — it takes years,” says Inabeza.
House of Omeed supports Arab and Persian newcomers as they create a new life in Canada. During the pandemic, many of their clients lost their jobs, and were afraid to advocate for government support in fear it may affect their refugee claim. A CRF grant helped House of Omeed set up a food-basket program for more than 130 families, which caters to their religious and cultural needs.
“Even though there’s a lot of stress in our community and many have given up everything to come to Canada, they still want to help each other and have a lot to offer,” says Ahmad Zeividavi, executive director.
Umoja Operation Compassion Society works with newcomers and refugees who live in Surrey, BC. “Our initial feeling was that of despair,” says Executive Director Amos Kambere, when reflecting on how cancelling or moving programs online would affect their clients. “Some of them are not familiar with Zoom [or] are new here on a computer. So, it was hard.”
With a CRF grant, Umoja created “modular connect packages” for 75 families to help address isolation with items like gift cards, art supplies, games, and outdoor activities for children, as well as journals to encourage reflection.