Why Giving Matters

HELPING HANDS FOR REFUGEES

February 16, 2017

A Seeds of Change crowdfunding project is set to help refugees go back to school at McGill’s School of Continuing Studies.

They are fleeing their countries for reasons most Canadians will never have to face: unimaginable violence from war and terrorism, persecution because they come from a different community, threats from within their own families. Even as they are welcomed by many upon arrival in Canada, they are viewed with suspicion by others here and elsewhere around the world.

But as Dr. Judith Potter, Dean of McGill’s School of Continuing Studies (SCS) points out, “Recent immigrants and, in particular, refugees are highly motivated to find their place in Canadian society. In our experience they are very hard-working students, often bringing unrecognized credentials from their homeland. And anything that we can do to reduce barriers and help them to thrive is in the best interests of all of us.”

Enter the Seeds of Change crowdfunding platform, which raises money for a wide array of worthy projects in the McGill community. Last year, one of the most notable was the SCS Bursaries for Refugees program.

Since November 2015, nearly 40,000 refugees have arrived in Canada from Syria alone, with 7,431 of those being settled in the province of Quebec – more than 4,100 in Montreal.

Nabil Beitinjaneh, BEng’88, is President of Le centre culturel syrien in Montreal, so knows better than most the challenges those refugees face upon arrival, beyond their immediate needs like shelter and food. A consultant in business intelligence and project management with CGI Group, Beitinjaneh is also a McGill volunteer serving on the School of Continuing Studies Advisory Board, and recounts how this project grew out of an SCS board meeting last spring.

“Everyone was asking, how can we help the refugees? We decided the best way was to create a fund that would help those in need continue their studies.”

The Seeds of Change campaign was born soon after, with Beitinjaneh and his project team getting the word out through their personal and community networks, both locally in Montreal and internationally, and through social media. The project ultimately surpassed its original $10,000 target, raising more than $12,000.

But Beitinjaneh also found others were keen to build beyond the campaign’s original goals. “The first person I called asking for major support was in London and he thought it was a great idea.” The donor was eventually inspired to contribute $13,000 to establish the Karim Ghassan Ejjeh Bursary for Syrian Refugees.

Support did not end there. Another anonymous donor and graduate of the School, who had expressed a willingness to make up any shortfall early in the original campaign, took their commitment a step further and established the Nizar Qabbani Bursary for the School of Continuing Studies through a $10,000 gift. Named in honour of the celebrated Syrian poet, the fund will support recent immigrants and refugees.

Le centre culturel syrien also teamed up with SCS and the I Medici di McGill Orchestra in December for a benefit Concert for Syria that raised $40,000. $15,000 of that is earmarked for a SCS scholarship fund, which will also get a boost from a matching gift fund set up by the McGill Association for Continuing Education Students to support scholarships and bursaries in partnership with the School.

All in all, the snowballing of the combined projects means more than $50,000 in support.

Bursaries from the original crowdfunding campaign, available to refugees from any country, will start being awarded to eligible applicants later in the Winter 2017 term, and will range from $500 to $1,000 to cover tuition and other costs. The modest awards can have an enormous impact as refugees strive to integrate into the work force. Helping one person can help a whole family.

“Financial impediments are among the most significant,” says Potter, “and this project is helping to make a difference for recipients of these scholarships and bursaries.”

Beitinjaneh agrees, noting that while there is a segment of refugees who are coming with post-secondary education or professional training, “they have to put food on the table quickly and don’t always have time to retrain completely from scratch.”

That means Canada is not able to benefit from their backgrounds. “If we give people a chance, they can recycle their experience into a new job path. For instance, a doctor can retrain to work in medical facilities or in sales of medical products.”

Beitinjaneh is now looking ahead to helping the School provide access to continuing education for as many refugees as possible.

“We need to continue to raise money,” he says. “But it can also be a challenge to make people aware of these bursaries, so we need to build awareness in the community.”

He has appeared on local Arabic radio and is working with community groups and leaders to let potential recipients know.

“From a Canadian perspective, we benefit by retraining people. For them, it’s an opportunity go back to university. It’s a win-win.”

You can contribute to the Bursaries for Refugees project through McGill’s Seeds of Change crowdfunding platform.