Syrian refugees coming to Canada in the months and years ahead will face a number of challenges, but an effort by local university students will make a small dent in the barriers two will face in trying to access an institute of higher learning.
Ryan Kaila, student union vice-president of finance and operations for UBC Okanagan, said they’re working with the university on finalizing a contract that will see two refugees have the full cost of a degree covered.
“The school would choose the person,” said Kaila. “But we would pitch in money and the university would put some forward, too.”
UBC’s Vancouver campus does something similar, only they take a dollar from each student and put it in a refugee plan. The Okanagan campus will see the union designate a portion of funds from their $1.5 million annual budget to the cause.
The plan is expected to be formalized in the next month. Right now, the university’s administration is in the process of looking over the contract the union has sent to them.
“If they don’t approve it, we will work on it more and get back to them again,” he said.
Kaila said they’re also working to get student approval. To get word out about the endeavour they interviewed and filmed a Syrian family who recently settled in Kelowna.
“It was pretty shocking and eye-opening,” he said.
“You forget that this isn’t just a foreign issue, it’s local. To see that they’re here, and the circumstances they went through to get here is amazing.”
The father of the family interviewed, Mohammed
Al-Shahoud, has 11 children; five of them successfully fled Syria.
“He left his home right away, after the civil war started,” Kaila said.
He left his car, everything in his house, picked up the five kids he had at home with him and ran away to a camp.”
That experience, they said from their home of seven months, created an appreciation for their new circumstances and that’s why they allowed student union cameras into their home for an interview.
“They wanted us to showcase how hard they work and how much they love Canada,” he said, noting that when they were asked why they were happy to be here their answer was simply that it was important to feel “safe.”
To see the video Kamar Burke at KB Kutz put together, go to the UBCSUO web site.
Other university-driven efforts to help Syrian refugees include the Muslim Students Association (MSA) Syria Relief Drive. The MSA at UBCO aims to collect medical supplies which will be transported to medical camps near the affected areas. Please drop off any medical supplies at the UBCSUO office.