Enactus Ryerson has committed to providing Syrian refugees with financial literacy workshops this coming March.
The workshops are part of the group’s new initiative, Project Welcome, which aims to provide newcomers with the skills needed to manage personal finances and start a business.
“(Project Welcome) was actually created for helping newcomers in general but with Syrians being newcomers themselves, we decided to focus on (their needs),” said Samad Nasim, a fourth-year accounting student and member of Project Welcome.
Back in July, the Ryerson University Syria Lifeline Challenge (RULSC) pledged to sponsor 11 families of four to Canada. The initiative quickly gained momentum and in September, RULSC announced it would be increasing its target to 25 families of four. This inspired Nasim and his colleagues to switch Project Welcome’s focus from one of entrepreneurial skills to that of financial literacy education for Syrian refugees.
The workshops will consist of modules that teach refugees how to open a bank account and access a line of credit. Other modules will teach skills like budgeting and filing income taxes.
“It was really cool that as we were making (the modules), we were finding out about things that we could use ourselves,” says Anthony Garcia, a second-year accounting and finance student and member of Project Welcome.
The workshops will be piloted next month through Enactus’ partners such as the YMCA and West Neighbourhood House. Nasim said that a member of the RULSC will attend these preliminary workshops to decide which modules would best suit the needs of Syrian refugees and how they could potentially be adjusted to best address their needs.
Part of RULSC’s requirement for sponsoring a family is that $27,000 must first be raised before that family can be brought to Canada. That money is then used to support the family for one year. Advice on how to effectively budget that money is the main objective of the workshop, said Nasim.
Sehr Athar is a member of Access Alliance, an organization that runs programs and services to support immigrants and refugees in Toronto. In 2013, Access Alliance launched the Sense2Dollars initiative, which assesses the needs of newcomers and assists them with their own financial literacy workshops.
“(The) workshops are important because they introduce new immigrants to the banking system in Canada, understanding financial products, (and) understanding how to use an ATM,” said Athar.
Access Alliance surveyed 200 members of the Toronto immigrant community and then crafted modules that would fit their needs based on the feedback given. The survey revealed that new immigrants are particularly vulnerable to fringe banking and other institutions that may take advantage of their inexperience. Another finding was that newcomers tend to rapidly burn through their savings because they lack practical knowledge on where to find the cheapest prices on clothing and food.
“Any workshop would benefit (Syrian refugees),” said Nanor Balyozian, a Syrian refugee who came to Canada a year ago.
Balyozian said her transition was made easier by the help of her sister who had already been settled and living in Toronto when she arrived. Balyozian said the biggest challenge is being unable to speak English on top of knowing very little about how Canadian society works.
Project Welcome is in the process of bringing an Arabic translator on board to assist with the workshops. The modules will also be translated into Arabic between now and March once all the modifications have been settled.
For Garcia, whose parents immigrated to Canada, the challenges newcomers face hits close to home.
“It’s a very personal project to all of us,” he said. “We’ve all seen our parents struggle and not have this information available to them so it’s nice to give people a different chance and a different start.”