Syrian refugees Maria Albasha

From Syria to Surrey

Transition into Canada for young refugees eased by social program at PICS.

The first word game of the afternoon is called Heroes.

The young participants have a Post-It Note with the name of a famous person placed on their back and they have to guess it using their limited English.

With laughter and camaraderie, the names are gradually revealed: Batman, Beyoncé, Obama…

“This one was a Syrian,” notes Eva Touzard, seeing the name of Apple founder Steve Jobs on someone’s back.

Many of the people around Touzard have that in common.

They’re all Syrian refugees who’ve been in Canada for a year or less – some of them just three months.

Touzard, a community connections coordinator at Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society (PICS) in Newton, is an organizer of the program that brought these youths together.

The three-days-a-week program, called Syrian Kids Go!, aims to help newcomers learn English and Canadian customs using games and social activities.

Photo above: Program volunteer Sally Alhamdan, 19, a second-year SFU biochemistry and microbiology student and Arabic speaker.

It’s friendly and free, funded for two eight-week sessions by Coast Capital Savings.

During the course of this afternoon, the kids play bingo, order pizza and get one-on-one help with homework from volunteers.

The program runs after school on Mondays and Wednesdays, and on Saturday afternoons.

Language instructor and facilitator Gita Matthew says the interactive nature of the program lets the kids set the pace of learning.

They’re taught English through games, are taken on weekend field trips to local community centres and libraries, learn keyboarding skills and share their stories through a mix of Arabic and English.

During a break, Ebrahim Aldalti shows off a photo of his newest brother, 10-day-old Zain.

Older participants can get help with job applications.

Matthew, who speaks some German, French at Tamil, says she’s learning a few words in Arabic along the way – she says there’s a good fun in both teachers and learners being corrected for new languages.

The kids in the program are among the hundreds that have settled in Surrey over the past year or more.

As of early January, 39,671 Syrian refugees had settled in Canada since Nov. 4, 2015. They include government-assisted refugees, blended visa office-referred refugees and privately sponsored refugees.

While their main scholastic English learning takes place in high school or after school through the Surrey School District’s Welcome Centre,  participants at Syrian Kids Go! get extra social experience with the program.

“It’s heartwarming,” says Matthew, who finds the kids friendly and easy to bring to laughter.

Syrian Kids Go! runs at PICS into the spring.

To learn more or register, contact Tamam Hasan at 604-596-7722, ext. 133, or; or Eva Touzard at 604-596-7722, ext. 138, or

For more information about PICS, visit


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