From a few founding members in 2016, the Nova Scotia Syrian Society (NSSS) has grown to include more than 300 members, and it’s now looking to expand its popular Arabic school and loan programs.
With small member contributions and donations from the Halifax community, the NSSS created a Syrian school last year to bring Arabic and cultural lessons to the youngest generation of newcomers.
It also started giving out small, interest-free loans to families for emergency expenses, like an unexpected funeral or uncovered prescription medications.
The group is now asking for donations through a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for those initiatives and kick off a small-business loan program, and it’s set a $50,000 goal.
Mustafa Alkrad, one of the volunteer teachers at the Syrian school, said it’s an important way to bridge children’s old lives with their new ones.
“We know that they already learn English at the Canadian school and they have very good teachers, they teach them well, but some of the students came here to Canada without learning any letters, anything about (their) own language, (their) Arabic language,” he said in an interview.
Alkrad was a professional teacher in Syria before fleeing the civil war. He and his family arrived in Halifax in July 2017, and he said he “relaxed for a few days” before jumping on board with the NSSS and getting back in a classroom.
The school’s weekend classes — which are currently offered to about 120 children in Grade Primary to Grade 3 — are also an important place to talk about life in Syria and Canada. The goal is to “keep (the Syrian) culture and (understand) how to live in the new culture.”
Members currently donate about $10 per month for their children to study at the Syrian school, which borrows space from the YMCA and Killam Properties.
With more money, the school would be able to buy more supplies and possibly rent a larger space to offer classes to older children and youth.
If the fundraising goal is met, the NSSS also plans to expand its interest-free loan program.
“I think people generally have a good life here — they can get money from income assistance or they can work — but sometimes you need money in urgent situations,” Alkrad said.
The society gave out its first small emergency loans last November and wants to be able to offer more. It’s also hoping to provide small-business loans for Syrian entrepreneurs.
Alkrad said a committee of NSSS members would review any applications and decide on the terms of the loans.
Ultimately, the group aims to guide Syrians toward security and self-sufficiency in their new country.
Alkrad said he’s noticed other immigrant populations in Halifax band together for that purpose, including the Polish, Pakistani and Lebanese, and the NSSS has taken its lead from them.
“We noticed that all the people living here have their own societies or their own clubs,” he said. “They organized themselves to understand or to resettle very well, to understand the society around them and to be effective in the society.”