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Program offers safe space for children of refugee families

By Costa Maragos Posted: July 29, 2016 6:00 a.m.

Dozens of children, with parents students and volunteers, come to the U of R every Saturday for a fun-filled day of activities.
Dozens of children, with parents students and volunteers, come to the U of R every Saturday for a fun-filled day of activities. Photo: External Relations.

Something special is happening each Saturday on campus. The Education building is teaming with dozens of children from refugee families, taking part in a day-long fun-filled summer program.

The program is organized by the Faculty of Social Work and was developed by four undergraduate students under the supervision of Dr. Miguel Sanchez, associate dean and Dr. Randy Johner, assistant professor.

Children Basketball
The children, with help from parent volunteers including Manal al Khateeb who is also the translator, take part in outdoor activities including sports and field trips.

The program is designed for Arab-speaking families. Most of the children are from Syria.

The social work students receive support from faculty members, volunteers, parents and a translator.

Student Bella Habib can relate to what the children are going through. Her family arrived in Canada from Eritrea 15 years ago as refugees.

“For the children here, I know this means a lot. I’ve lived it,” says Habib who is a fourth year Social Work student. “The camp gives parents a break and gives the children an opportunity to meet other kids.”

Habib with fellow social work students Kandice Hebert, Mike Skilnick and Irene Barnes are doing this program as part of their practicum. But this program means so much more to them.  

“Knowing what the children have been through, it is a joy to make sure they are socializing and giving them a safe space where they can be themselves,” says Barnes.

Social Work Students
Parent Aisha al Haddad with social work students Bella Habib and Irene Barnes.

The day-long activities include crafts, outdoor and indoor sports, excursions and time in front of a computer.

“They love the computers,” says Habib. “Most of the kids don’t have computers at home so this is a treat for them.”
 
Speaking through the translator, we asked one of the parents, Aisha al Haddad, how she feels about the program.

“I am happy when the kids are here. They have fun here with their friends. They are always at home so it is good to come here and go outdoors and do things,” says al Haddad.

The Faculty of Social Work is doing this in collaboration with the Regina Open Door Society.
 
For Sanchez, this initiative has a deep meaning for him personally. He’s a refugee from Chile, having escaped the Pinochet regime in 1978.

“We know what these people have gone through,” says Sanchez. “As a faculty, we had publically stated that the Government of Canada had an obligation to accept the refugees. So to further express our solidarity with these people, we came up with the idea for this program for children. It is our small way to help the children and their families settle into this new country.”
 
The program continues each Saturday until August 20.

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