58 families, 800 volunteers: How one man runs refugee sponsorship like a business
Published Tuesday, January 3, 2017 8:50AM EST
A Canadian businessman who has sponsored 58 families fleeing war-torn Syria says there have been “a lot of little challenges,” as well as success stories, for the refugees as they adjust to life in Canada.
Last year, Jim Estill, president and CEO of appliance manufacturer Danby said he would be putting up about $30,000 per family to cover their first year of expenses in Canada, in addition to providing all kinds of services to help with the resettlement process.
A year later, Estill, who is based in southern Ontario, says the 220 refugees he’s sponsored have seen much success, despite the difficulties of leaving their war-torn homeland.
“There’s not one big challenge, there are a lot of little challenges,” Estill said in an interview on CTV’s Your Morning Tuesday.
He said, at the beginning, getting the refugees into Canada was slow-going. “We also learned the difficulty in learning English quickly. It does take quite a while to become proficient.”
Despite this, Estill says most of the families are doing “very, very well. They’re definitely fitting in and integrating and I believe that 90 per cent of them or more will be very successful in Canada.”
A year later, Estill says there are obstacles to overcome. Some refugee families are concerned about how they will support themselves financially.
“Success is 50 families working, paying taxes, buying groceries where you or I buy groceries, speaking English,” Estill said. “And that’s a big challenge because imagine someone took all your stuff and moved you to a foreign country where you didn’t speak the language and no one recognized your credentials. That’s the situation they’re in.”
But, Estill added, “they’re grateful for being here.”
With an army of 800 registered volunteers, Estill said he’s organized his sponsorship program ‘like a business.”
“So I have a director of jobs, director of housing, director of transportation, director of food,” he said.
Every family has an Arabic-speaking and English-speaking mentor family who helps the newcomers with such tasks as riding the bus, applying for library cards and English-as-a-second-language testing.
The children, in particular, have rapidly adjusted to life in Canada, said Estill.
“The children learn English, accent-free, very, very quickly. In three or four months, most of the kids can speak English, and the other schoolchildren accept them, and I think all of the children are doing exceptionally well.”
Despite all he’s done, Estill said his work is not complete. Forty-seven of the 58 families he’s sponsoring are now in Canada, so Estill says he and his team are working on getting the other 11 families here.
Estill said he’s driven by the horrors that are unfolding in Syria, where a bloody civil war has been raging for years.
“I did not want to grow old and say I stood by and did nothing.”