Refugee families set to find new homes with Vancity support
The difference between Danny Ramadan’s past life and the one he leads now is extraordinary. He was kicked out of his family home in Damascus, Syria at age 17, after he came out as gay. He found an underground community of friends during a two-year stint in Egypt. He then returned to Damascus, only to be captured by the secret police and incarcerated in Syria’s notoriously grim prison system. Upon his release, he fled to Jordan and became one of the thousands of Syrians there who have been displaced from their war-torn homeland.
Things are very different now. Danny made it to Vancouver as a refugee in 2014, he is a successful author and public speaker and he lives with his husband Matthew, whom he married in the fall of 2019. Now, with the help of sponsorship from Vancity, he is preparing to welcome his sister and her family to the country he calls home.
“I consider myself to be a successful Canadian citizen,” says Danny. “I have a promising career in my field. If you had told me when I was 15 that I would be where I am now, I would have said you were completely insane.”
“I consider myself to be a successful Canadian citizen. I have a promising career in my field. If you had told me when I was 15 that I would be where I am now, I would have said you were completely insane.”
Danny is hopeful his sister’s transition to a new life in Canada with her husband and young daughter will be just as successful. They’re set to arrive in the summer of 2020 as part of a Vancity program to support five refugee families over five years. In collaboration with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. (ISSofBC), the credit union will fund the settlement costs for each refugee family for one full year.
Catherine Ludgate, the Vancity senior manager of community investment who is spearheading the program, hopes it will encourage other organizations to step up and sponsor refugees.
“This work is tied inextricably to our origin story,” says Catherine. “When we started in 1946, it was about helping people who didn’t have access to the banking services they needed. We’ve always been focused on financial inclusion and, as our communities have changed over the years, refugees are now the frontline of the unbanked.”
Danny understands from his own experience the social and cultural challenges that his sister and her family will face when they get to Canada.
“A lot of refugees arrive with a very rosy view of what life will be like here,” he said. “They have this honeymoon period of a month or so where they’re in love with everything. And then that period ends because integrating and adjusting to a completely new culture is very difficult.”
But at least the new arrivals will be getting the best possible support. In addition to providing financial assistance, Vancity will enroll 10 of its employees in a mentorship program through ISSofBC. These new settlement mentors will offer friendship and assistance to the arriving families as they explore their new communities.