Kelowna residents chip in to fund English lessons for Syrian refugees

Immigration Canada dollars aimed at local language training dried up in June, so the community filled the gap

“Hey there neighbour, what do you say? This is going to be a happy day.”

Those simple lyrics, tentatively sung  between giggles were the pitch perfect opening to a ceremony marking the end of a summer English classes for a roomful of new Kelowna residents.

The program was held at Evangel church, and addressed the language needs of both beginner and intermediate English speakers.

Evangel runs a similar program every summer. Although, teacher Joshua Lee pointed out at the Thursday ceremony that the class is usually on a much smaller scale, and for people who are in the community on a temporary worker visa.

There were both adults and children. They came from Thailand, Japan, China and Germany. But the vast majority who were learning there this summer were from Syria.

Immigration Canada dollars aimed at local language training dried up in June, so half dozen churches of varying denominations banded together with the Okanagan Refugee Coalition for Advocacy, to make sure that the most important aspect of community integration wasn’t forgotten.

They raised $22,000 required to run the program this summer Francis Langevin, who works with ORCA.

Irvin Cordes, executive mission pastor at Evangel, said that the program was amazing to watch unfold.

“Each day we had 100 people here and it was overwhelming,” said Cordes, noting that there were 55 adults and 47 children in the program.

“When we come together as a community and walls come down, we can build relationships. It was a beautiful mix of cultures.”

What made the program particularly successful, he said, is that it offered the women a chance to get lessons because there was a daycare component included.

There was also a bus that picked up participants and shuttled them to and from classes.

Alaa Alshahoud arrived in Kelowna last February, and although she had some English to start with, the classes have helped her a lot.

“I learned about grammar and some interview skills for work,” she said, adding that having her two children in care made those lessons all the more effective.

It’s unclear how language lessons will proceed in the fall, especially for women.