As Canada welcomed its first 10,000 refugees from Syria on January 13, UTM’s MSA will soon also welcome its first sponsored Syrian refugee family.

Last semester, MSA partnered up with Bassam Esbait, the owner of Mississauga’s Tarboosh Restaurant, to help raise money for the sponsorship of a Syrian family through Lifeline Syria by selling sandwiches and other food provided by the restaurant. The MSA told The Medium that roughly $17,000 of the initial $30,000 has been raised and that a family has been selected for sponsorship.

The initial goal of $30,000 included the start-up costs that Lifeline Syria needs in order to hold a sponsor liable. Since Esbait is the one legally sponsoring the family, the financial matters and signing of contracts have been left to him, with MSA keeping a close eye on the process.

In a phone interview with The Medium, Esbait mentioned that he is also in charge of finding a home for the incoming family and providing rent and groceries. He expressed that he has to help the family with everything ranging “from toothbrush[es], to toilet paper, to linen [and] pillows”.

In an interview with The Medium, MSA president Maleeha Baig said that the family consists of six members: four children and two parents. According to Baig, the children are all under the age of 12.

“Since we asked for a vulnerable family, we think that at least one of the family members might have a disability,” Baig added.

Baig was proud of the work that Esbait had done in raising $13,000 of the $17,000 that has been raised so far.

“[Esbait] has been reaching out to businesses and corporations so he has a wider and wealthier community to work with,” she said.

The Tarboosh Restaurant has long been involved with the Mississauga community. Esbait was previously a refugee himself, and currently hires employees who are refugees.

According to Baig, Esbait also has a list of items that the family might need taped on the wall of his restaurant. Volunteers are welcome to choose an item off the list and can either buy the item or donate the money needed to buy it for the family before they arrive.

“I have decided, along with my parents, my wife, and Maleeha [Baig] […] that we will give 100 percent of the proceeds of the falafel sandwich sale towards the cause,” he said, adding that he has a list on the wall of his restaurant with the names of people who purchased a food item.

“It is not their contribution that we are honouring, it is the fact that they have eaten the falafel at Tarboosh and the money that I collected from them will be money that has been raised,” said Esbait.

Esbait emphasized that the main reason behind why he has asked people to write their names on the lists taped to his restaurant’s walls is so that when the family arrives, they will realize that it wasn’t a single large donation, but the efforts of many.

“The values of sharing, giving, helping, hard work, […] is what this whole process [is] about,” said Esbait.

Esbait submitted the necessary paperwork to Lifeline Syria two weeks ago. The group has not yet confirmed the expected date of the family’s arrival, because, according to Esbait, the refugee settlement process has been experiencing delays.

“What’s happening is that […] [the government] has slowed down the process a lot because of difficulty in the housing process. This is the main concern that the refugee families are having in Canada,” says Esbait. “Not that many landlords are willing to rent. As a matter of fact, in the next two days, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration will be holding meetings with these property owners to see how they can relax the rules to accommodate these kind of larger families.”

Earlier last week, the MSA’s executive team participated in the Syrian Refugee Crisis Case Competition at Ryerson held by the Ryerson MSA. Participants were asked to brainstorm ideas, given a set budget, that could aid Syrian refugees living in Toronto. The MSA’s executive team won a first prize of $500, and also had the opportunity to meet with Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, John McCallum.

There will be a dinner hosted by the MSA for the family to meet the UTM community once they arrive in Canada. The dinner will take place at the Blind Duck. Baig said that the MSA will probably cover the costs of the dinner for whoever shows up.

“I’m just really excited to help the family get integrated into Canadian society through UTM. I want them to feel that UTM is their family and we want to do some events with the kids so they find some relief from the trauma they’ve gone through,” said Baig.

More fundraising events like “Sandwiches for Syria” will occur throughout the year to achieve the goal of $30,000.

Once this family has been settled, Esbait hopes that the MSA and the Tarboosh Restaurant can together sponsor other vulnerable families in the future.

“It doesn’t have to be Syria—it could be Africa, [or] from any other country where people are really in need,” said Esbait.

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