First Steps to Walking with Refugees

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First Steps To
Walking With Refugees
First Steps To
Walking With Refugees
For over two years since moving to Toronto, Caitlin Leach has worked with refugee
claimants who pass through Romero House, helping them build new, safe lives. In 2014,
Leach was among the leaders of “Walking with Refugees in the West Bend,” which explored
issues surrounding the services provided to, and integration of, refugees into a west-end
neighbourhood.
“I had not dreamed that 60 people would ll our small community centre at the start of
the walk,” Leach observes. “Mostly, I had not imagined the impact that would be made by
inviting one refugee, at the last minute, to speak to the crowd.”
Winnie was a client of Leach’s at Romero House, who gave birth to her son Eli in January
2014. During a stop at the Four Villages Community Health Care Centre, Winnie noted
how the community health system provided pre-natal care within days of her arrival in
Canada, when she lacked medical insurance. “Later in the walk,” Leach notes, “she sang a
song that she wrote for her son. She sang about the uncertainty of a life where the threat
of deportation lingers on the horizon, and about the knowledge that her life is in God’s
hands.”
“Winnie made real for the crowd an existence marked by repeated displacement, and the
threat of future upheaval, but shaped by a strength that few can fathom. She made this city
her own by showing it to others. By speaking for the refugees of Toronto, she claimed it as
her city, and as their city.”
Walk Story: Walking With Refugees In The West Bend
Toronto, ON, Canada
First, you’ll need to learn a bit about the situation of refugees in your city. Roughly how many are
there? Where are they arriving from? What is their experience of arriving in your city like?
Start by going online and looking up local organizations that work with refugees. If you’re not sure
what exists in your community, contact the federal or state/provincial government ofce that
oversees refugee resettlement, and ask them. (We’ve provided links for some countries below.) There
may be a settlement centre, or other organizations that serve refugees in areas such as education,
food security, health, and housing. These may include shelters and church or other faith-based groups.
Local community legal clinics and women’s shelters may also work with incoming refugees. Your
local/regional branch ofce of Amnesty International may also be helpful.
Find out what kind of community outreach these organizations are doing. Does your local refugee
shelter have a fundraising event? A regular open house? Do they ever hold public information
meetings? You should go! This is a great way to learn more about refugee issues where you live, and
furthermore, organizations that are doing outreach are likely to be interested in participating in Jane’s
Walk.
Get in touch with a shelter or settlement centre, and offer to take a staff member out for lunch. Be
prepared to ask questions and listen!
Once you’ve learned something about the situation of refugees in your city, and met some community
leaders, ask them if they can put you in touch with people who might want to lead a walk, or tell their
stories on one. Or suggest they lead a walk themselves! Tell them about successful walks on this
theme, like the one in Toronto or this one in Buffalo, and go over the potential benets of leading a
walk outlined below.
It’s likely that most people in your community know about local refugee issues only through news
reports. As Caitlin explains above, a Jane’s Walk can give these stories a human face. It’s a chance for
refugees to meet some of their new fellow citizens and tell their own stories directly, not via the news
media.
Actually meeting people living as refugees can motivate citizens to get involved, and talking to those
people can help them gure out what they can contribute. Colleen French of the Canadian Council
for Refugees suggests making the last stop on the walk an opportunity for “people to not only ask
questions and mingle with the speakers themselves, but also learn more about what they could
do next. With major events like the Syrian crisis, it’s important for people to feel like they can do
something locally.”
For people who arrived as refugees and who have now been in the city a while, a walk can be a chance
to show others in their community what they’ve accomplished. For example, this walk in Buffalo, NY
put the spotlight on small businesses created by refugees.
Getting Started
How Can People Benet from Leading a Jane’s Walk?