Programs help refugees overcome trauma

United Way funds sessions for Syrians in Surrey, Burnaby

The kinds of horrors that Syrian refugees to Canada may have experienced are many, from kidnapping and torture, to the execution of family or friends to sexual assault, exploitation and threats.

Once here, they may need help dealing with the trauma they faced escaping one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.

To that end, the United Way of the Lower Mainland is committing $158,000 to mental health programs to help the latest wave of Syrian refugees to come to local communities. The programs will be delivered through two social service agencies: Surrey-based DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society and MOSAIC.

The United Way launched an urgent fundraising appeal in November to help Syrian children and families settle in, speaking with partner agencies about the needs the refugees may face and asking for project ideas to access funds.

DIVERSEcity will use its $88,000 grant to deliver eight five-week group sessions for Syrian adults and parents, as well as children aged five to eight. The sessions will use material developed by experienced providers of trauma services for refugees and will be facilitated by registered clinical counsellors and other trained staff. A minimum of one facilitator of each group will speak Arabic and have a working knowledge of the cultural norms, religious beliefs and communication needs or possible barriers. Childminding for younger children and lunch will be provided.

“We are so thankful to United Way for supporting this program as there is a tremendous need for programs like this that support the mental health of refugees – we know how beneficial it is for their successful settlement and long term success here in Canada,” Tahzeem Kassam, Chief Operating Officer at DIVERSEcity.

MOSAIC will use a grant of $70,000 to provide art and play therapy groups for kids under 12 at a community school in Burnaby. The project is intended to help Syrian families integrate into the school system and link them to other free mental health services to help overcome trauma.

“As a healthy, caring, inclusive community, it’s incumbent upon us to help these people,” says Michael McKnight, President & CEO, United Way of the Lower Mainland. “These programs that focus on mental health support for Syrian newcomers will provide a critically important service.”

Between 2,500 and 3,000 Syrian refugees are expected to settle in the Lower Mainland and other parts of B.C. in the coming months. It’s anticipated about 40 per cent will be children under 18.

The two mental health support programs are the first in a series of investments United Way intends to make to help families settle. To make a donation, visit


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