Sunday, November 29, 2015

Organizing Syrian Refugees

I am sure by now, everyone knows I am involved in bringing in 50 refugee families.   Many other people have approached me asking how this can be orchestrated.  It is not difficult but it does involve organization.

As with any project - start with the goal.  "To successfully integrate refugees into our society which includes allowing them the opportunity to be self supporting contributors to our society".  So the exercise is not simply to give them money for a while so they can go on welfare.  Rather, give them a hand so they can build their lives back.

I approach this problem as I would any business problem.  Forgive my clinical organizational approach but that is needed before the good can be done.

And as with all good business, we will need constant improvement.  This system is not proven so I welcome any suggestions on how to improve it.

So how are we doing it?

We have the following roles with the following responsibilities.  This is 100% volunteer.  We have 8 teams which is a good number for span of control.  Each team is lead by a director and an assistant director.  This gives us the redundancy we need should someone drop out.  We are aware that volunteers can be keen to start but enthusiasm can fade so we need our backup plans.

1 - Director of Mentors - This person organizes the mentors(and in many cases it is a mentor family - not just one person) and assigns families.  Each refugee family is assigned to a lead mentor who orchestrates the group of mentors for them.  The lead mentor is responsible for scorecarding their families on scales including Health (mental, physical, dental etc.), Education (everything from English skills, schooling to job training), Adjustment, Housing, Transportation and Finance.  These scorecards are used to report back to the other directors and to allow those teams to jump in where needed.

Each family has an Arabic speaking mentor and an English speaking one.  Usually these mentors are usually full families.  The mentor team tries to match the mentor families with similar families.

So the set up is Lead Mentor (who monitors about 5 families), and 3-4 other mentor families per family.  So each refugee family needs about 3-5 local families to support them.

The mentors draw on the other groups for the support they need so they are not expected to do it all themselves.

The mentors have a checklist of things that must be done for each family.  Again, the lead mentor goes though the checklist and sees that it all gets done.  The checklist includes things like taking the bus with the family and showing them how to use the bus system, getting health card, getting library cards and showing them where the internet computers are, taking them to their initial medical and dental check up and even mundane things like showing them how to use cleaning supplies and where the grocery store is.

Mentors have a mentor the mentor program to guide them through the process.

2 - Director of Finance - monitors all the money including the in-kind donations.  Frugally gives out the money as needed.  Also works with the mentors on the financial health of their families.  Each family needs a financial plan.  We are bringing in families that will support themselves - we just help them become self sufficient.

The Director of Finance has the donations team reporting to them.  This team collects and sorts the offers for help and does the asking when more help is needed in an area.   One thing this project allows is for people to give back and allowing people that opportunity makes them better people.  We give them that privilege.

3 - Director of Education/Training.  This person works with the mentors to orchestrate ESL, get the children in schools, and sets up a volunteer run summer school to catch children back up to their grade level.  The children will have a language disadvantage to start and will have missed some shool so will be behind.  It would not be fair to have a 12 year old have to be in school with a bunch of 9 year olds as a result.

This team also looks at the adult training needs for job skills.  In many cases credentials from Syria will not be recognized so they need to upgrade.

4 - Director of Health.  This person orchestrates the team to arrange everything from doctors, dentists, chiropractors, occupational therapists, to psychologists and sociologists.   They work with the mentors to monitor health in all areas and work to provide the support needed.

5 - Director of Food and Meals.  This person orchestrates a team to see that everyone gets fed.   To start this means knowing where they go to get a meal so organizing places to feed groups of refugees.  Then it moves to helping billet families out if needed by supplying meals or food.

The need for this food will fade fairly quickly as they become settled into their own houses and have have jobs.  We are simply bridging them to self sufficiency.

This team also orchestrates continuous weekly pot luck feasts (that is what we call them) not only for the food but as social events.  And these are not only for the refugees but for the volunteers and community.  They help build friendship and community.

6 - Director of Jobs.  This team maintains the list of jobs available and helps match people with appropriate jobs.  And this team looks at job satisfaction to ensure long term successful employment.  In some cases it will be part time work.

We are organizing a coop daycare.

7 - Director of Transportation.  This team organizes drivers for everything from meeting people at the airport to delivering meals and food, driving volunteers to help,  to picking up furniture (so yes, we need some people with trucks and to help them we will have positions where we offer free workouts (moving stuff)).   This team keeps a roster of drivers and assigns them as needed.

This team organizes bus passes for everyone.  And figures out how people can get to work.  They will even arrange for cars in some cases which will allow someone to take a job where there is no bus or allow them to live in a house that is outside of the city.  So we are looking for people to donate cars or the use of a car (and we can issue a tax receipt)

8 - Director of Housing.  This team figures out and orchestrates everything from the very short term where do people stay for the first week to where do they settle long term.  The plan is to have refugees stay for a few days or up to  two weeks at local hotels and retreat centers.  This allows time to assess to figure out what housing solution is most appropriate.

From there, many will be moved to live with a billet host family.  We have a roster of host families willing to do this but we could use more.  We are looking for people to host for 4-8 weeks.  This allows longer term housing to be solved.

From there families are moved to houses and apartments.  We have a need for more long term housing.

Some families will skip the billet step an move straight into a house or apartment.  If this happens, they will need more intense mentor help to make sure they are comfortable with how to get things done.

The housing group also arranges all the furnishings, housewares, linen, cleaning supplies etc. for the family.  They will orchestrate move in parties and work parties to clean, repair and paint housing to make it ready to move in.


There are tasks that are missed in this organization so those fall under the "other duties that may be assigned".

And yes, as with any organization there is a lot of overlap and cross helping.  So just because someone works on the education team does not mean they might not help the housing team with a painting project or do some driving etc.  The Finance team orchestrates donations but the Housing team might also solicit some themselves (while informing Finance so we can track it).

The resources we put together for our 50 families are not just for "our" 50.  We open this up to anyone who is bringing in refugees that would like help.

I will follow this up with other blog posts on FAQ's on each position, the checklists and forms we are using and updates on tweaks to the system.


At 10:16 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

As a Syrian family how we can be involved, I wish to have a chance to one of these 50 families. I have got two children, we lose everything in this war, please give my kids the chane to be save and a chance to be alive..thank you Mr. Estill

At 10:43 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Can we know how you will chose these families?

At 4:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr.Jim,
First of all I want to thank you for your help for Syrian families, really hats off to you.
I introduce myself, my name is Meriam,i'm Tunisian and i reside in Tunisia, I'm 28, I graduated in private law since June 2011.
July 2011, Mom got sick from a stomach cancer, after almost 10 months I lost it, she died April 25, 2012 was 1:00 in the morning, I can not describe my sadness ... it is cruel and horrible to live without mom.
My story is not over, it was discovered lung cancer was my dad in July 2012...after 2 years of therapy, 2 years of hope, suffering 2 years, 2 years of attempts, Dad died August 10, 2014 at 4:00 morning ... August 10 it's his birthday ....
I never ask anyone for help, I was a happy woman, strong, law student, I was very dreamy ...
Today I do not understand my life I am lost and more specifically we are lost: me, my brother ... and my sister (my brother aged 30 years, had a master technologie of sound and image, he is unemployment, my sister is handicapped, aged 35 years)
In your opinion dear sir i'm not like the Syrian refuges? they lost their country and I also lost my home
Maybe it's hard to believe me, but I am ready to provide all documents relating to this subject.
Can also be you are not Mr.Jim Estille that I read in the Canadian press, but it is not a problem and as the saying goes a drowing man will clutch at a straw.
Thank you for reading me and am so sorry for my bad english.

At 5:10 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Dear Jim,

Aside from the stating the obvious, how wonderful and generous a gesture you've made in sponsoring the 50 Syrian families, as a former management consultant, may I say how much I admire your organized approach to the challenge. I wish all my clients had had such a clear understanding of how to "attack" a project! Perhaps it's that "systems approach" thoroughly applied

There are three things I'd love to ask you: first, have your families started arriving yet; second, do you have any actual employees as your Directors, and third, would you be interested or even available to speak to Ottawa's city coordination group for our efforts? Aava person working with just one group welcimibg two families, I'm finding there us a lot of 'churn' in our efforts, although there are a lot of smart people involved. I also feel some aspects should be handled at the macro level, not the mifro

Cheers and all respect,
C Labaty


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