Thursday 11 February 2016

A Unique Canadian Story of Care, Innovation and Refugees

Melissa Campbell, founder of The Refugee Response Group, is a young Edmonton mother with a compassionate heart.  When she heard about the plight of Syrian refugees, she wanted to help ensure that any family seeking refuge in her community could enjoy the same comfort and safety that we sometimes take for granted here at home.  Melissa shared her desire to help with two friends, sisters Kathryn Rambow and Elizabeth Nash.  Kathryn and Elizabeth grew up in a family that supported refugees from Vietnam, so with Melissa’s help, they began to build a group strong enough to support a large, extended family from war-torn Aleppo.  Melissa’s core group is twenty-strong, but dozens more help with fund raising and coordinating donations of furniture and clothing. 

The old Souk in Aleppo, before the war, and after.

Melissa’s group was matched with two connected families.  The parents who head the household have a total of seven children.  Their oldest son is married with two children, including a newborn – a brand new baby boy, Ahmed.  The entire family escaped from Aleppo to a camp in Lebanon.  But their plans to travel in time for the baby’s arrival in Canada were scuppered when bad weather delayed flights and the baby’s arrival date became too imminent for safe travel.  Baby Ahmed was born a few weeks ago in Lebanon and now, Melissa’s Edmonton team is ready to welcome their Syrian family into an apartment that includes a crib and clothes for the baby.  All being well, Ahmed and his parents will touch down in Edmonton this weekend.

What makes Melissa Campbell’s story of refugee sponsorship unique is that she is using a Canadian social network called Tyze to plan and coordinate the efforts of her group.  Tyze is a secure online platform designed to help coordinate a network of support or care, including the creation of ‘communities of belonging’. Tyze is powered by Saint Elizabeth Health Care, Canada’s largest social enterprise.  This is a story of how Canadian ingenuity and generosity are helping some of the world’s most vulnerable victims of war settle in to our neighbourhoods.

Melissa’s Edmonton support group includes contributors who bring a wide variety of relevant skills and experience; one is a social worker and another works at the local school board.  Everyone has special talents that will help to ease the new family’s settlement process. The Edmonton response to the need for hands-on support, says Melissa, has been ‘magical’.  But coordinating efforts and ensuring that ‘the left hand knows what the right is doing’ has special challenges, especially given that files related to the family’s needs are private and shared on a need-to-know basis.  

Here are some features of Tyze that make it uniquely suited to a refugee support network.  

Tyze includes:

  • The same data security as online banking. It is completely private, password encoded and not Google searchable
  • A sharewall to post updates (videos and pictures) and exchange supportive messages among all network members. The wall is a place to help keep everyone informed, reducing the social isolation associated with this level of change that refugees will face.
  • A calendar of events that offers the network owner and members an avenue to be more informed about upcoming events, appointments and it helps others within the network plan when activities can have the greatest impact. As well, at the site level, the calendar can be used to schedule and inform network participants of local events.
  • Secure vault (file storage) to store important individual documents that can be shared with selected network members and/or share and store information that may be of benefit to the groups within that community.
  • A place for requesting assistance, giving members of the support network the opportunity to know when their assistance is most needed. This promotes the model of “Shared Care.”
  • A private and secure message system.
  • Resources and tools available in the library for network owners and all network members to increase their knowledge. This library can be categorized for ease of access and customized to each type of network. Common resources can be shared amongst different Tyze sites in the case of agency involvement with multiple support networks.

Melissa is thrilled about the way her community has come together to create a circle of support for refugees.  “It’s crazy how people have rallied around this family”, she says, “and Tyze is the perfect platform for supporting refugee groups.”

If you know of a refugee support group that could benefit from using Tyze, contact Mary Lou Ackerman Vice President, Saint Elizabeth HealthCare (905) 968 6451 [email protected] for more information.

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