Friday March 15th marked the eighth year of the ongoing conflict in Syria; the war that forced 5.6 million Syrians to be displaced away from their homeland. This refugee crisis made headlines all around the world and it is considered to be one of “the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time” by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greeted 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada with warm welcomes and winter coats to readily prepare them for a Canadian winter. However, a drastic change in temperatures and wardrobes wasn’t the only adjustments these families had to make. The hardships of learning a new language, continuing or beginning an education, and finding jobs were big concerns for many refugees. For some Syrians, this displacement meant a brand-new start.

That is why Neda Maghbouleh, an assistant professor in UTM’s sociology department, and her research team, RISE (Refugee Integration, Stress, and Equity), are currently conducting a research case that looks at Syrian mothers and teens and tries to understand the settlement and integration process years after their arrival. The research is titled, Settlement, Integration & Stress: A 5-Year Study of Syrian Newcomer Families.

According to the RISE website, they are a “multi-generational team of researchers who are passionate about refugee and immigrant wellbeing. Their team members include Neda Maghbouleh, Principal Investigator, Melissa Milkie, Co-Investigator, professor in UTM’s Department of Sociology, and Chair of the Graduate Department, University of Toronto, Ito Peng, Co-Investigator, professor in U of T’s Department of Sociology, and Director, Centre for Global Social Policy, as well as Rula Kahil, Laila Omar, Dalal Badawi, Anmul Shafiq, Mohamed Afify , Fatima Al Saadie, Nour Habli, and Iman Abdul Razzak.

In an interview with The Medium, Rula Kahil, the Postdoctoral Fellow and Research Associate of the study, explains , “The goal of this study is to be able to communicate our results with policy makers, sponsors, community centres, and with settlement workers regarding matters that might be difficult for those families. The results are shared in hopes of policymakers and sponsors to, maybe in the long run, improve some of the things they do and pay attention to certain aspects that they don’t see from their standpoints.”

The team uses questionnaires as their method to collect their information. The questionnaires consist of 25 questions concerning basic social aspects. “Some are related to the family household, some are related to the kids and the schooling, some are related to the mother herself and how she is doing regarding language and adjustment. The main purpose of all of this is to see how these families are adjusting throughout their first three years of being in the country,” Kahil says.

Regarding the format of the questions, Kahil states that they are “mainly open-ended questions all asked in Arabic. When we interview these families, we try to prompt them to say more about their situation. For example, one of the questions ask something like “how are your kids doing at school?” We don’t say are they doing well at school.” The questions are asked in a one on one conversation in which the female team members interview the mothers and teenage girls and the male members of the team interview the teenage boys. The responses are recorded and then taken to the stage of transcription and translation.

In the earlier stages, the study was focused on women and mothers; however, through collected results, the team noticed a strong correlation between the mothers’ states and the teens’ states. They also noticed how both aspects impact each other. Therefore, the studied group was extended to studying both female and male teens aged 13 to 19 years old.

The group is still in the interviewing process. They have already done 80 per cent of the first phase of interviews and they are hoping that by the end of April they will finish the interviews and then start transcribing. “We didn’t analyze any data but we’re just in the process of checking how things are working, and changing some things for the questionnaire”, Kahil says.

“The group that we work with is a spectacular group and Neda’s leadership is something I’ve never seen before and everybody is so lucky to be under her leadership which is very caring, compassionate, and passionate, but at the same time serious and committed grounded into the reality of the project. There really a wonderful sense of family and I love that because we work with families,” Kahil says in reference to her admiration of the enthusiasm of the team and specifically professor Neda Maghbouleh’s remarkable leadership skills.

“It is not easy to hear stories. It is not easy to witness the suffering from those who suffer but Neda is always there to hold all of us and we are such a supportive group that is supported by her and also by each other. The choice of the people who work in the group is also spectacular. We are people from mainly Arab backgrounds. We speak both languages [Arabic and English] and we understand the community we are interviewing,” Kahil adds.

Kahil is honored to be part of this community and project because it is a topic that is very dear to her heart. “I was very interested in the research when I heard about it mainly because the Syrian community is very close to my heart. I’m originally from Lebanon and the two regions are almost one country for me. Lebanon also had a very similar civil war and I understand the suffering that comes with the misfortunes of war. I have so many Syrian friends and I wanted to give back to the community my research.”

Kahil concludes by stating that due to the focus on mothers and teens, the study is special in its own way and can help communities grow and understand one another. 

This article has been corrected.
  1. March 23, 2019 at 4 a.m.: Updated photo

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