Arabic workshop helps connect community with refugees

Brandon Dallamore (left) and Imam Mazhar (right) partner together to offer Arabic language classes to the Kamloops community. (Danya LeBlanc/The Omega)

Brandon Dallamore (left) and Imam Mazhar (right) partner together to offer Arabic language classes to the Kamloops community. (Danya LeBlanc/The Omega)

More than 20 people interested in welcoming Syrian refugees to Kamloops attended the first of a series of Arabic language workshops at TRU on Jan 11. Community event organizer Brandon Dallamore paired with Imam Mazhar Mahmood, director of religious affairs at the Kamloops Islamic Association, to provide this public event.

The class runs on Mondays 5:15 to 6:30 p.m. in the International Building IB1020 and offers beginner lessons in Arabic and history. It is intended to be the first step in preparing to welcome Syrian refugee families to Kamloops.

Kamloops’ first of three refugee families fleeing the conflict in Syria arrived on Dec. 31 with the assistance and sponsorship of Refugees and Friends Together (RAFT) Kamloops. The family of five is adjusting to life in Canada while a family of four and a couple expecting a baby are expected to arrive in Kamloops in the coming months.

To prepare to assist in integrating the refugees into the community, a wide range of community members including parents with kids, students, retirees and RAFT members filled up the first Arabic class. The first class was buzzing with energy, Dallamore said. Participation numbers initially exceeded organizers’ expectations and the organizers expect class sizes to continue growing thanks to their availability.

To encourage community involvement and participation, the classes are extremely flexible and accessible. Registration is not necessary and the classes are drop-in. The classes operate by donation, where individuals pay what they can afford. The recommended minimum donation is $10.

For over a year, Dallamore, a building systems technologist at TRU, has been an event organizer and host on the online social event network “MeetUp,” through which these classes were formed. After bringing together community members for board games, recreational activities and other social events, Dallamore recognized the need for the refugee families coming to Kamloops to have that same sense of community.

“I thought it might be easier for the refugees, instead of being isolated into their basement suites, if we invite them into our community. And to do that, if there is a language barrier, that’s a major obstacle, as only a few people here speak Arabic,” Dallamore said.

The workshop series is the first step in integrating refugee families into the Kamloops community. The second step, inviting families to social events, will be made possible by Mahmood, who is currently teaching the Arabic language workshop and is the Muslim religious leader for this area. He has connections that would allow the group to extend invitations to the families coming to Kamloops.

“For those who are interested, it will be key to gaining insight into the Arabic language and it would be a great tool for students. They can become assets for the many Syrian refugees who are expected to come to Kamloops and enroll in the program,” Mahmood said.