The Honourable Minister Ahmed Hussen Makes a House Call
It’s not every day that one of Canada’s federal cabinet Ministers stops by the home of a refugee family. But, one sunny morning in August 2018, that is exactly what happened. While in Vancouver this summer, the Honourable Ahmed Hussen took time out from his busy schedule to stop in at the home of the Husein family and observe the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) program in action.
HIPPY program: Helping parents help their children succeed in life
Funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the Mothers Matter Centre’s HIPPY program, offered by Immigrant Services Society (ISS) of BC, works with low-income and socially excluded newcomer families.
The HIPPY program teaches parents to improve their children’s linguistic, social, and cognitive skills, building a framework that enables children to flourish when they get to school.
Not only does HIPPY help parents help their children succeed in life, but it also provides an opportunity for parents to develop their own confidence and literacy skills, and it leads to increased parental involvement in the community – all of which are critical to the smooth integration of families into Canadian society.
“We left Syria to escape from death.”
The Husein family are Syrian refugees who arrived in Canada from Lebanon in 2017 with their four children. Mohamed and Ashmaa came from rural Syria where they farmed land that had been in their family for four generations. They fled war that was claiming the lives of many civilians.
Mohamed described the difficult decision that he was confronted with. “We left Syria as refugees to escape from death… if I was still there I would be in a trap, either join the army and kill my relatives or refuse to join and get killed.”
Meeting Minister Hussen
So, how does a Cabinet Minister manage a home visit? With humility.
He sat on the sofa with the family in their modest but comfortable apartment. Supported by the Arab speaking HIPPY Home Visitor, Samara Najei, Minister Hussen participated in the weekly role-play of the materials, asked questions, enthusiastically joined in singing the ABC’s with the youngest child, and raved about the traditional homemade Syrian cookies.
The Minister did not restrict his visit to learning about the nuts and bolts of the HIPPY program. He gently inquired into the family’s experience in Canada and encouraged them to continue their progress in learning English. He assured them that, with their new language skills, they would find a place in Canadian society.
“The visit made us feel safe here in Canada.”
From the perspective of the Huseins, the visit exceeded their wildest expectations.
The parents were astounded – and delighted – to be asked to host Minister Hussen’s visit. They were amazed when he drove up in his car. “In Syria,” Mr. Husein exclaimed, “no Minister would arrive anywhere without an escort of armoured vehicles and armed guards.”
When asked about their impressions of the visit, the Huseins described Minister Hussen as a kind and humble man who treated them respectfully. “He sat in our living room,” they said, “and talked to us as though we were equals. The visit made us feel safe here in Canada, that we made the right decision to move to Canada. Thank God we are here in Canada. We are much better off than our friends in Europe.”
The dream of giving back
The Husein family shares the same dreams as all Canadians: they want their children to get a good education and have healthy and happy lives.
They admitted that, when they first arrived, they were scared. “We didn’t know what to do or where to go. We wanted to go back home to our family and land, but we knew that there is no return because of the war.”
Mohamed is clinging to his dream of returning to work on the land. “I hope we can work again in farming. This is our passion and our expertise, and we are prepared to work hard. Through this work, we can give back to this country a little bit of the kindness it has shown us.”
Since the Minister’s visit in August, Mothers Matter Centre introduced Mohamed and Ashmaa to the Young Agrarians of British Columbia, which is an organization whose mandate is to match new agrarians with retiring farmers who are looking to lease land. While still a long road ahead, we are all hoping that this new relationship will yield large for the Huseins.