Through his organization, Dubarah, Ahmad is creating a system of support - entirely volunteer based - to enable refugees to integrate, find work, and establish a life for themselves in the countries they now call home.
Something beautiful happened on February 10: We welcomed Syrian Ashoka Fellow Ahmad Edilbi and his family to Canada.
After years of instability since fleeing Syria in 2011 due to threats, Ahmad and his family (his wife, Manal, and their boys Jad and Fares, ages 4 and 3) are now ready to make Canada their new home.
It took us five months to get him here and it was truly a team of changemakers that enabled this moment.
We raised the funds and built a team committed to supporting Ahmad and his family in their first year of settlement in Canada. While we were a core group of 5 volunteers in Toronto -- Wendy Cukier, VP of Research and Innovation at Ryerson University (an Ashoka Changemaker Campus); ASN member Bill Young and his wife, Janet; Ammar Youzbashi, Ahmad's colleague from Dubarah; and myself (Claudia De Simone) -- we worked together with teams from our respective organizations and networks.
The Ashoka Middle East North Africa team and global fellowship leader were invaluable in supporting a smooth transition of relationships and knowledge.
Our local colleagues and friends connected us to health and social services. We received dozens of offers of support from the Ashoka network in Canada.
Bill and Janet gave two thirds of the funds raised and Janet has tirelessly helped with scouting apartments, finding and preparing temporary housing, and even hanging out with the kids and taking the family grocery shopping.
Ammar is Ahmad’s right hand on bridging the Syrian-Canadian connection and a volunteer with Lifeline Syria.
Ryerson University's Lifeline Syria Challenge was the perfect infrastructure to help us. Wendy and her team at Ryerson removed barriers, ensured we submitted a strong application and sourced countless in-kind donations.
We were also overwhelmed with support from friends in our personal networks who donated warm clothing and food, offered temporary housing, etc.
It was not by accident that we were able to make this all happen. Our team is highly effective because:
- we have the highest degree of trust in each other;
- we are all changemakers (solutions-focused, deep sense of empathy, persistent, eternally optimistic, mobilized other changemakers);
- we organized around a goal (The first goal was to bring Ahmad and family to Canada; now, it is to support them to settle and thrive).
With his arrival February 10, we are onto the next step: settling and thriving. We have just found permanent housing and once the family moves in, the boys will start school. We will help Manal establish a network of support that includes childcare so she can work. Ahmad is working with our pro-bono legal partners, Blake, Cassels and Graydon LLP, to establish Dubarah in Canada.
In addition, Ahmad and our changemaker team attended a luncheon at the Economic Club of Canada last week with the Federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees & Citizenship and the Provincial Minister of Immigration. They highlighted the importance of governments, social services and community groups to work together to support refugees -- beyond their first year. It was an opportunity to introduce Ahmad’s work to policymakers and prospective partners and help them tangibly understand the power of Ashoka and Fellows in creating an everyone a changemaker world.
Dubarah means I've got your back in Arabic. This experience has shown us all that with the right team, we all have the power to significantly shift the future to one where we all have each other's backs.