Last week, Pocket Robin noticed previously featured changemakers Parkbus post about an inspiring event they took part in. Together with an amazing group of people and organizations pitching in and volunteering, Parkbus brought over 50 recent Syrian refugees from Toronto to Arrowhead Provincial Park for a day of winter fun and true Canadian hospitality.
At the end of the post, Parkbus wrote:
“Yesterday was a reminder that we can all do so much good for one another, and the outdoors is an amazing platform to make that happen!”
We couldn’t agree more, and decided to catch up with Julia Bitan who organized the event so we could share the story and celebrate their success.
The reason is quite simple; I have a passion for the outdoors and I want to share it with recent newcomers to Canada. As a newcomer myself, it took me a while to get comfortable in my new home in Canada. It’s not easy to move your life across the globe, and I want to use the power of the outdoors to help in that transition.
I read about the wave of recent Syrian refugees arriving in Canada and realized it must be extremely hard for these families to leave everything they know and suddenly find themselves in a new place, with a new language and on top of it all to arrive in the middle of the winter – it must have been quite a shock. I wanted to show them there is more to Canada than Toronto and share with them the joy of the outdoors by offering a fun, worry free snow day.
The reaction was 100% positive from every partner I approached. Everyone loved the idea and wanted to get involved. Without these individuals and organizations this wouldn’t have been possible:
It felt amazing. When we were leaving Toronto, the kids were singing and clapping, and as we got closer to Muskoka and the kids noticed the piles of snow and all the frozen lakes, they went silent and stuck their faces to the bus window. It was a magical moment; you could just feel their curiosity and excitement.
It was also great to see the kids being exposed to Canadian winter activities like snowshoeing and tubing. They had a great time and will hopefully continue to explore more of what the outdoors has to offer.
Definitely seeing their reaction to the snow and frozen lakes on the bus. That silence and whispering while staring out the windows. Another great memory was seeing them go tubing for the first time. Everyone was laughing and having a good time, both parents and children.
I have never actually organized anything like this before, so it was a learning experience for me. We dealt with government organizations, legal paperwork, liability, document translations, connecting all the dots with partners, making sure everything was planned, all partners were happy and ensured there were no gaps anywhere. We dealt with a few last minute changes, which is always a little stressful, but everything came together in the end and made for an incredible and rewarding day.
I set a goal to see this through and make sure everyone who came had a fun and memorable experience – for both participants and everyone else involved. I think it worked!
You need good partners to run something like this; it involves approaching people who don’t know you and making friends with different companies and organizations. Also, when things get crazy, remind yourself why you are doing this and how you want it to happen. Having that image in your head will guide you through all the obstacles.
The event was designed as an introduction to the Canadian outdoors but it became much more than that. 3 of the 8 families are now pursuing settlement in Huntsville.