Syrian refugee family about to move into permanent home in East York

Arrived in March 2017 thanks to group of private sponsors

Dena Shah, Zia Zarawar, Renee Pellerin, Jim Handman and Kasy Pertab at Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre April 17, 2017.

Two former producers from the CBC are busy collecting furniture to help “their” family of Syrian refugees move to an apartment at Main Street and Danforth Avenue in Toronto’s East end on June 1, 2017.

Jim Handman and his wife Renee Pellerin are a part of a Toronto sponsorship group called Kensington Assistance for Refugees. The group raised over $30,000 in donations to try to take care of everything that the Syrian newcomers would need when they arrived in the country at the end of March.

The family of five includes parents and three kids: a daughter, 12, and two boys, aged 8 and 10.

When asked why they decided to support the Syrian refugees, the Toronto couple replied that they wanted to contribute and help as much as they could.

“We thought, ‘What could we do? We already have so much,'” said Pellerin during an interview with journalism students at Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre in Toronto on April 17.  “We wanted to contribute and somehow help. That’s why we did it, we just wanted to make a difference.”

The private sponsorship group didn’t choose the family on its own. An organization called Humanity First matched them with the family, after being on a Canadian government waiting list for about a year. However, the moving to Canada process had some bumps along the way. The Canadian sponsors knew nothing about the family that was arriving, and they were solely responsible to prepare the living arrangements, food supplies, schooling, and medical care.

“For the first two weeks, Jim drove back and forth every single day [to the temporary apartment that was arranged],” Pellerin said. “We were going for 14 days of just making arrangements and seeing what else they needed.”

Although the initial period after the family landed wasn’t easy, Handman and his wife said that it was all worth it, at the end of the day. When asked what the best part of it was, they both agreed that it was the children.

“It’s really about the kids,” Handman said. “I look at the three kids and they’re so bright and energetic and excited to be here… I look at them and I realize, this is what it’s about. These kids will enrich this country in all sorts of ways.”