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Folk Arts Centre

Young Syrian refugees who arrive in Canada after spending years in refugee camps in Turkey and Lebanon often have huge gaps in their education. They may have learned to understand and speak English just fine, but without knowing how to read and write, they face obstacles to work, health, and future well-being.

Zainab Awad, Mental Health Program Coordinator at the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre, said closing this education gap for refugees from war-torn countries is the most important factor that will lead to their success.

A $28,000 community grant from the David S. Howes Fund is allowing the Folk Arts Centre – which offers many of Niagara’s settlement services – to give nine young Niagara students specialized English literacy instruction. The goal is high school diplomas, and plans for future education or training, that will help each of them reach their career goals. Without this instruction, they are unable to earn high school diplomas. Because they are intelligent and hardworking with aspirations to careers that require education, literacy is fundamental. Without it, they are likely confined to precarious and often dangerous work, said Awad, which makes their physical and mental health prospects precarious too. Instead of being able to contribute to a strong community, the students can feel hopeless, and find themselves engaging in risky behaviour.

The funding supports a pilot project, but Awad said as long as Canada is accepting refugees who have been in camps without education, such specialized literacy instruction is always going to be needed. Her hope is that other community partners join to fund it as an ongoing initiative and that it is offered in other communities too.

“This is so important, it is so essential.”

The program began online early in 2020 and the students are excited and grateful, said Awad. “It is giving them hope.”

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