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Post-Standing Committee Hearing
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Foundation of Hope testifies in Parliament on behalf of the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Program

Foundation of Hope (FOH) Board Directors and Grants Committee representatives went to Ottawa to testify before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on May 3rd, 2017. Chad Wilkinson and Eka Nasution appeared as witnesses and presented the position of Foundation of Hope as a funding partner to the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Program (RRAP).

Our mission was to bring evidence for recommending the continuation of the RRAP. We testified to the Committee alongside Ottawa-based Capital Rainbow Refuge (CRR) and Vancouver-based Rainbow Refugee Society. Rainbow Refugee founded RRAP as a federal program in 2011. It has been extended to 2018, but its future is uncertain. Both organizations presented compelling arguments in their individual strengths and successes in terms of advocating for RRAP’s reinstatement.

Established in 2011 under Canada’s private sponsorship program, RRAP has been, for many years, encouraging LGBT+ Refugee sponsorship from organizations across the country. Privately sponsored Refugees from abroad have faced violence and persecution on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). Thanks to RRAP, Canada represents an important safe haven for SOGI Refugees.

RRAP does three critical things:

  1. Allows any sponsorship agreement holder (SAH) to accept SOGI Refugee applicants irrespective of annual government quotas;
  2. Reduces limits on the number of visa offices across the world accepting private sponsorship applications for SOGI Refugees;
  3. Provides three months of resettlement assistance funds to privately sponsored Newcomers.

Some 73 countries criminalize same-sex relationships and gender diversity, which can be as severe as a death sentence. Given the threats faced by LGBT+ Refugees and internally displaced Asylum Seekers, RRAP has proven to be successful. Seventy-five beneficiaries of RRAP have been resettled in fourteen municipalities across Canada. The Government of Canada is studying RRAP to deliberate on reinstating it as a regular program, given that it specifically targets among the most vulnerable members of society.

Foundation of Hope strongly encourages the RRAP move beyond a pilot program to become a regular program with dedicated funding, much like the other resettlement assistance programs (RAPs) offered by the Government of Canada. We see ourselves as a lasting partner through RRAP.

Private sponsorship takes donors, volunteers, and government resources. Foundation of Hope aims to provide unwavering support of the private sponsorship initiatives championed by organizations like CRR and Rainbow Refugee amid the worst humanitarian crisis in our history.

The Government of Canada must do what is morally right as a nation so revered in the world in its respect for human rights.

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You can view FOH’s briefing provided to the Standing Committee, as well as our speaking notes.

 

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Reflections: our first Board retreat

On November 26th, 2016, the Foundation of Hope (FOH) Board of Directors had our first full day retreat. The purpose of the retreat was to connect on a personal level and bring together the values and commitments of the board members. The retreat also included new FOH recruits that are not yet formal board members.

This was my first experience doing this kind of work with a non-profit charity. On the business side, my life is in health care leadership, but the non-profit side is quite different. For one, it is all volunteer-based – people giving their heart and soul that are driven by a deep sense of purpose and giving back. Despite absences from a few board members, we successfully built on the group process to share our creativity with each other to the benefit of all board members.

This is vital work that will help to build a strong, relevant, and lasting organization.  

The day’s focus was different from the two previous strategic planning sessions held by FOH since its inception. The group retreat focused on what’s inside (the human) and worked to bring it all out through lived experiences and values. Strategic planning is really about who we are as an organization, what we do, how we do it, and when to act. The retreat was all about why we as individuals are doing this – that comes from deep within, as a core set of values.

Our focus of the day targeted 5 key areas of exploration:

  • Creating simple rules of engagement
  • Defining levels of commitment
  • Setting team agreements
  • Establishing group alignment
  • Applying social skills and working styles

All five areas focus on Team strengths. It was truly wonderful to connect with a group of people so committed to a Vision.

Our facilitator was amazing and able to adapt to different issues and events throughout the day. One technique I thought was really powerful was to ask a thought-provoking question, then get participants to go for a 30-minute walk in groups of 3. It amazed me how much deeper the conversations went!

It is just incredible that FOH started as an idea in a living room among a group of 30 caring people! We created a possibility for LGBT+ refugees and today we have granted over $70,000 to charitable organizations across Canada! These are the charities actively doing the individual case work.

This retreat reminds me that everything is possible when you care so deeply about something. This retreat will be one of my most memorable, as an historic moment in the evolution and growth of the Foundation of Hope.

Carl Meadows, President

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Welcoming diversity: at the heart of what we do

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It is unfortunate that the Foundation of Hope exists. In fact, I actually wish we didn’t. I wish that people did not need refugee-supporting organizations and I look forward to the day – if ever possible –  when we are able to disband and go our separate ways.  However, the sad truth is that we do have to exist, and we must continue working to support other charities and sponsors in their quest to give LGBT+ Refugees a better life.  Our world is seeing an unprecedented number of refugees and our LGBT+ family across the globe are still struggling for a breath of fresh air.

Today, my friends, it is ever important to ensure that we press on to make our Vision a reality: a world where LGBT+ refugees and newcomers can live safely and be themselves.

 

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I am sitting in an airplane right now, rather exhausted and irritable, waiting impatiently for the attendants to wheel their caffeine cart to my row so I can fuel up.  You see, it’s late, but I have to write.  I have to somehow find a way to transform my reflections and experiences into something tangible.  I spent three days last week at the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) Fall Consultation in Montréal on the traditional territory of the Mohawk peoples. I am feeling incredibly impacted and inspired by the consultation.  I feel hopeful, and somehow conversely, I also feel hopeless.

To contextualize this consultation, “the CCR is a non-profit umbrella of more than 180 organizations across Canada committed to the rights and protections of refugees and other vulnerable migrants and to the settlement of refugees and immigrants in Canada” (CCR Handout, 2016).  The CCR hosts recurring consultations, to which they invite their member organizations and other interested stakeholders, including Newcomers themselves. These consultations facilitate a coast-to-coast information exchange.  This consultation in particular was titled Welcoming Diversity: At the Heart of What We Do. It comprised 450 registrants who were engaged from across Canada and FOH fit right in; we were graciously welcomed. The consultative agenda consisted of various working groups, caucuses, presentations, and workshops. I only wish I was able to attend all sessions.  What a wealth of dialogue, discussion, and most importantly, action planning!

In order for you to get a sense of my experience, I will list the sessions in which FOH was present:

  • Overseas Protection and Sponsorship Working Group Meeting
  • Opening Plenary with keynote speaker Johannes can der Klaauw, Canada’s  UNHCR representative
  • Promoting Refugee Protection Internationally
  • Sharing Best Partnership Practices in Building Welcoming Communities
  • LGBT Refugees
  • Current Issues in Immigration Detention

As you can imagine, after these sessions I am feeling full of shared knowledge and new information.  It is truly amazing to see so many diverse people dedicated to the improvement of lives around the world, lives of unknown people, often with untold stories. In light of the election south of the border, its current sociopolitical landscape of xenophobia and racism, it felt refreshing to see so much drive for our world’s betterment.  Canada has an incredible opportunity to lead by example and continue to fortify its humanitarian characteristics of vigilance and perseverance, held deeply within our national culture. If one thing was particularly thematic over these past few days, it is that Canada is doing something right.  As was stated yesterday, “We need more Canada in the world.

However, to humbly deflate my nationalist ego for a moment, we certainly have a lot of work to do.  Our immigration system is not perfect and progress is often slow.  I can say in confidence, though, that actions are being undertaken, voices are being heard, and flaws are being addressed.

What excited me at the consultation was the moments in between sessions, the social mingling and networking that occurred among people from the various member and guest organizations. It is particularly exciting that there was so much interest in the Foundation of Hope… I suppose this is not a surprise, since our main goal is to distribute grants! There are many people coming into contact with sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), or LGBT+ Refugees and other Newcomers, and it seems to me like this consultation and connection to CCR will deepen our roots within this work.  I predict that some grant applications will be headed our way.

Throughout the sessions I was scribbling notes in my trusty notebook, and I want to share these with you.  I captured what caught my attention and what moved me in order to report back to my team and supporters, to evoke further discussion and quiet contemplation. Here are some points to consider:

  • Article 14 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights guarantees the right to asylum – it is not a matter of charity.
  • Newcomers are people first and seeking refuge is one of a diverse set of components of “oneself”.
  • A need for policy coherence: e.g., does it make sense for Canada to resolve the Refugee crisis and continue to sell weapons internationally?
  • Engagement and commitment of civil society is essential; rhetoric without action is fruitless.
  • The Canadian response to an international call to support and welcome Refugees will go down in history.
  • The current “refugee crisis” is not a crisis of numbers, it is a crisis of global solidarity.
  • Global support is not administered equally;  developing countries host the most Refugees (i.e., Lebanon, Iran, and Turkey).
  • Of the 65+ million people displaced, 40 million are displaced within their own country and 20+ million are Refugees.
  • Most of the world’s Refugees come from 3 countries: Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
  • Canada’s model for private sponsorship will be disseminated and implemented across the world.
  • The CCR is about people coming together; people helping people.
  • A need to address “Month 13” after a sponsored Refugee transitions out of the first year of legal sponsored support.
  • Refugees today spend an average of 20 years in exile.
  • There are 32 prolonged Refugee situations globally, 11 of which have been occurring for over 30 years.
  • A Trump Administration may threaten funding to UNHCR and Canada must preserve and bolster its asylum system.
  • Resettlement is only one solution. Remedial effort by the whole world is essential to target root causes of asylum. 
  • Canada is well-positioned to shape the asylum narrative going forward.
  • The Refugee and migrant voice is imperative: nothing about us without us!
  • A bridge must be constructed between Newcomers and Canada’s First Nations.
  • The IRBC is creating partnerships with “trauma-informed approaches” to assist SOGI Refugees.
  • A Newcomer detention system is unacceptable, but improvements include a trend toward in-community detentions.

Well, my friends, the coffee cart has come and gone. It is time to tuck my laptop back into its case and ride out the rest of this flight.  Before I go, I must make an important acknowledgment.  The Foundation of Hope would not have been able to attend this consultation if it were not for the TD Aeroplan Pride campaign’s generous donation of 3 million Aeroplan miles.

This is an incredible contribution to our Purpose and I speak for the entire FOH Board of Directors when I say we are very grateful.  Thank you.

Chad Walters, Board Director

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Round 3: Foundation of Hope teams up with our community

While others were out parading and masquerading, colors spread amid ghoulish and fantastic costumes of Halloween, Team FOH gathered at QMUNITY in the heart of Davie Village with sleeves rolled up.

New faces from the LGBT+ community joined the table, including a former refugee that found his way to FOH after receiving emergency travel services from Toronto’s Rainbow Railroad, an important partner of FOH. Grants Committee members and community reps evaluated the latest round of grant applications.

Round 3 focused mainly on Sponsorship funding for individuals in dire situations. A more salient example involved a trans couple that narrowly escaped acute death threats from their own families in a predominantly Muslim nation where LGBT+ are frequently killed. If convicted under Sharia law, punishment can include whipping with 100 lashes or even death by stoning.

Outed individuals can be killed in before criminal prosecution begins and violent mobs have beaten suspected homosexuals to death. Rainbow Railroad helped the couple escape with the utmost urgency to another country on same continent where they are considered safe from death threats and violence, but face ongoing hardships.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) no longer acknowledges their struggle as legitimate refugees. Still, the couple must hide from public exposure and faces discrimination from local people fearing they will take their jobs. Non-violent forms of discrimination are not considered to be persecution, but UNHCR still deems the couple to be a case for private sponsorship and will assist with an application.

This case was brought to FOH through Capital Rainbow Refuge (CRR) in Ottawa, with endorsement by Rainbow Railroad. It is further complicated by the fact that the couple has a young child that remains in the country of origin and cannot be released by law. It all poses to be an immense challenge CRR hopes to resolve, ultimately by reuniting the child with its parents.

Once resettled to Canada, the couple intends to make use of the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Program (RRAP). Initiated in 2011, the Government of Canada appealed to efforts from Rainbow Refugee Committee (RRC) by creating a $100,000 federal pilot program dedicated to rsettlement of LBGT+ refugee. It generally amounts to about $3000 per individual refugee. Success of the pilot program led to the reinstatement of RRAP for an additional two years as of March 2015. Through the program, RRC continues to enable private sponsorship of LGBT+ refugees across Canada.

In reviewing these applications, it can be difficult to read the stories of inhuman struggle that is so hard to imagine. The few that do survive such trauma still face barriers once they arrive in safe countries, often surrounded by a foreign culture where they cannot speak the language and still face discrimination.

That’s why FOH supports the work of MOSAIC BC and its I Belong Project, which received grant funding in 2015 through the Community Services stream. Funds are dedicated specifically to clinical counselling services for LGBT+ newcomers that have endured traumatic forms of persecution leading to PTSD. In consideration of renewed funding, FOH Board Directors will meet with MOSAIC at the end of the month to learn more about the success of I Belong and its role in fulfilling our Purpose.

Foundation of Hope encourages ongoing support from anyone and everyone that would like to help realize our Vision:

A world where LGBT+ refugees and newcomers can live safely and be themselves.

Please consider sending us a donation or become a standing monthly donor today.

Just click here

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Reasons to STRUT: your generosity at work with Rainbow Railroad

Rainbow Railroad of Toronto received $17,500 in grant awards from FOH last year, largely thanks to funds brought in through our inaugural STRUT event held last year, which raised nearly $45,000 through grassroots fundraising efforts and corporate partnerships.

Justin Taylor, Executive  Director at Rainbow Railroad was pleased to provide FOH with a status report on how those funds went to help LGBT individuals find a safe ­haven from state­-sponsored violence. Funds directly contributed to assisting four individuals at significant risk.

Travel support went out to a young gay Jamaican man who sustained severe stab wounds while defending a homeless LGBT+ youth against a violent attack. Rainbow Railroad assisted him to travel to a safer destination.

Rainbow Railroad stepped in to help a young lesbian Jamaican woman and her young son travel to safety after witnessing the murder of a suspected gay man in their neighbourhood. Following the murder, she was threatened from a local gang so her family asked her to leave their home out of concern that she would attract violence.

A young woman from Uganda experienced extreme violence, abduction, and “corrective therapy”, which included rape. Ostracized from her community just weeks before Rainbow Railroad could help her get to safety, she was abducted, drugged, and assaulted by religious extremists.  Rainbow Railroad relocated her to a safe haven in Western Europe and she is now in the process of claiming asylum.

These situations are real. They are often hard to digest and all too easy to overlook in countries like Canada. Even in Canada, we are not yet there, although the government recently tabled legislation to protect and enshrine the rights of transgendered individuals, which is a huge win. Still, the walk is not over for us and it has only begun in places like Jamaica and Uganda, among many other nations in the world.

FOH is committed to enabling the Canadian charities like Rainbow Railroad fulfill their purposes, which closely align with our own. Our vision is a world where LGBT+ asylum seekers, refugees, and newcomers live safely and are free to be themselves.

The Foundation of Hope is committed to transparency and accountability. We exist through volunteerism and fundraising, which is why STRUT is such a high-profile event that enables the work we do.

These are all tenets of our constitution, which is predicated on success. Rainbow Railroad has demonstrated this by sharing these stories so that we can in turn share them and remain transparent and accountable to our volunteers and funders. We are nothing without you.

So come out and STRUT with us on June 11th. Your support is what will sustain these gifts and effect real change. It’s that simple.

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Funds in action – a look at how Foundation of Hope works

It has been almost three years since a small group of Vancouverites came together and put forth an application as community sponsors to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, now known as the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). Our group helped two gay Syrians living as refugees in Beirut make it to Canada, where they now reside as permanent residents.

This was neither an easy nor inexpensive process and it presented both challenges and opportunities that came as important lessons. The main lesson was learning that myriad organizations, many of which are registered as charities in Canada, already exist to provide unique support services to the LGBT+ refugee and newcomer community. These organizations are doing important work on the individual level, but they still require the financial means to do so.

It has now been more than a year and a half since the same group came together in August 2014 on different level to establish itself as RAINBOW FOUNDATION OF HOPE (Foundation of Hope or FOH). The foundation is a registered society in Canada with a mandate to extend financial support towards charitable organizations actively assisting LGBT+ individuals in need, whether as asylum seekers, refugees, or newly settled migrants (i.e., newcomers to Canada).

Those that have suffered through what the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) deems as “well-founded threats of persecution” are a defining characteristic of what it means to be a refugee. Entire cultures throughout the world are currently under various forms of persecution, with millions either living in refugee camps or seeking asylum (i.e., have fled their countries, but are not yet accepted yet as refugees). Despite this injustice, some of those very cultures also hold strong religious perspectives that continue to view alternative expressions of gender or sexuality as deplorable, even punishable by death. This leads to a subset of refugees and asylum seekers, those that identify as LGBT+, trapped by inescapable persecution. They must hide in fear, yet many are actually living in refugee communities and are hiding among refugees. This seems hard to imagine, but it is very much a reality.

A year ago FOH created STRUT to raise this issue through a symbolic event that demonstrates what freedom of expression can look like when combined with the privilege of living in an open, accepting society like Canada’s. Fortunately for all, the timing of the inaugural STRUT launch coincided with Canada Revenue Agency bestowing charitable status to FOH. Now a registered charity, this allowed FOH to more readily reach out to donors that would in turn be provided with a tax credit as an incentive.

Amazingly, STRUT brought in well over $40,000 last year. Entirely through voluntary efforts, FOH re-organized its Board of Directors in August 2015 after drafting bylaws and forming a legitimate internal governance structure. We established committees dedicated to community volunteerism, fundraising efforts, the development of collaborative partnerships, and grant administration. We built the infrastructure needed for accepting grant applications and disseminating financial awards to other registered charities across Canada.

And we started to give.

Foundation of Hope has since administered over $25,000 in grants to charitable organizations like MOSAIC, which has used FOH funds to supply counselling service to LGBT+ newcomers suffering post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) from former acts of persecution and violence. RAINBOW RAILROAD is another organization supported by funding from FOH. It works to privately sponsor LGBT+ refugees and asylum seekers to be resettled as newcomers to Canada, as well as to supply emergency travel assistance for individuals escaping acute persecution and get them to immediate safety.

Each of these organizations represents one of two streams of dedicated funding from FOH:

1) COMMUNITY SERVICE GRANTS in the case of MOSAIC

2) SPONSORSHIP GRANTS in the case of Rainbow Railroad

Several new applications have come in from other organizations and are currently under review. Our goal is to continue to reach out across these organizations, meaningfully engage the volunteer community at the grassroots level, and build up a strong donor community on a long-term financial level.

This is the ultimate support network that will fulfill the vision and accomplish the mission of Foundation of Hope.

STRUT 2016 kicks off at the Launch Party tonight, April 23rd at 6:00 PM at Celebrities Night Club. Registration of participants and the pledging of donations by sponsors will continue through spring and up to the walkathon on Saturday, June 11, 2016 at Sunset Beach. 

We sincerely HOPE those that CARE about this issue will show up, STEP up to the task, and lend SUPPORT to this symbolic event so we can all WALK collectively to the BENEFIT of LGBT+ refugees and newcomers to Canada.

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Looking ahead: organizational development for Year 2 and onward

Foundation of Hope Board of Directors had an enlightening session with Julie Hamilton last Sunday. Having exceeded the goals set during the 2015 Strategic Planning workshop, Julie once again generously volunteered her time and skills to get us focused on building on that success.

Intent on growth, FOH structured the session to look beyond a single year and set key objectives for the coming three years:

 

1) Increase Board capacity and enhance its effectiveness;

2) Develop strategic partnerships; and

3) Become a sustainable charity through long-term financial stability.

 

To achieve these objectives, Julie helped identify a few strategies that require a modest retooling of FOH’s message. Enhanced involvement of volunteers, donors, partners, and grant recipients is integral to our long-term vision.

The session began with a reflection on the achievements in Year 1. What did FOH do? Who was involved? What made us proud?

We all agreed that milestones included FOH’s governance structure, charitable designation, and ability to exceed the goals set for financial gain. We ultimately delivered on our mission to financially support charitable organizations assisting LGBT+ refugees and newcomers. The ability to gain charitable status prominently demonstrated a commitment by the Board.

Formal establishment of a legitimate volunteer board with working committees, successful fundraising efforts, and build out of the grant infrastructure allowed FOH to receive and approve funding applications. The tireless volunteer effort from within and beyond the LGBT+ community combined with an incredible wave of generosity from our partners and donors cannot be overstated. To this end, FOH is honored to have built such an important bridge for the larger LGBT+ community.

A presence in the Pride parade and the creation of the STRUT event brought in folks and organizations to proudly step up to support this cause, including the Right Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself! Individual fundraisers held by Peter Fitzmaurice and Kevin Perra, exposure through Lush Cosmetics’ #gayisok campaign, and promotional events hosted by Neighbourhood House and Mercury Artists all demonstrate teamwork as a huge element of success.

But success is not without challenges. Valuable lessons have come out of the first year’s agenda. For example, FOH understands better that it’s important to be clear when to say no. This extends to communication within social media and interpersonal relationships; it is critical to maintain a clear and consistent message and define one’s boundaries. External challenges included being too receptive of negative feedback/criticism, which require strengthening of our internal support network and growing a bit of thicker skin!

So where do we go from here and how do we get there?

Foundation of Hope understands that board unity is its strength. This is not only effective, it can actually be contagious. And that’s a good thing, especially since we consist entirely of unpaid volunteers with full-time careers! Strength in unity comes through team building exercises, which we intend to foster as we move forward. This year, FOH will roll out its internal onboarding strategy to expand board capacity in a way that is intentional, transparent, accountable, and predicated on success. This is precisely in keeping with our constitution.

In terms of future growth and organizational development, FOH will cultivate strategic partnerships over the next twelve months. Our registered charitable status is conditioned on giving to other Canadian charities as a “rhizomatic” system (i.e., a lateral network for disseminating grant funding). Like a farmer tending a garden, FOH aims to position itself at the heart of this network as the middle ground between the grassroots and larger organizations.  Through volunteerism and dedication, the individual contributions (i.e., “time, treasure, or talents”) from the grassroots feed in like essential nutrients from the soil. This is equally as valuable as the contributions from larger, deep-pocketed organizations, which act as sunlight – an energy supply to fuel growth.

Nutrients and energy are the essential ingredients that sustain this rhizomatic system of financial support, where FOH sees its role as most valuable. As a hallmark event, STRUT is our principal fundraiser that also raises the visibility of the cause. The intention is to build a financially stable legacy, though we mustn’t become overly dependent on one signature event.

Still, moving STRUT beyond Vancouver and into other provinces and cities can enable FOH to raise our profile. The cause is global in scope, so we’re gonna step up to the platform!

And rest assured, a metamorphosis is underway.

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Reliable financial support to LGBT+ refugees and newly settled migrants is a long-term priority for FOH. To develop a sound investment strategy, a key objective is going to be identifying the means to ensure longevity that allows us to be financially self-sufficient.

We have a lot of work to do over the coming three years. As the issue of LGBT+ identity persecution continues to pervade so much of the world, time is of the essence.

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Awareness and acceptance: valuable lessons of inclusivity and compassion for 2016

As February rounds out, I thought I’d take a moment and share the valuable lessons the Foundation of Hope has come to learn and expand on so far this year. These are lessons rooted in inclusivity and compassion. They focus on awareness and acceptance, which draws attention to the core of FOH’s purpose.

On queer competency – a lesson in awareness

 

How aware are you on this topic? On February 15th, five FOH board directors attended a queer competency training session hosted by Joel Von Flugen on behalf of the folks at Qmunity. It is fair to say that five cisgender gay males don’t adequately represent the sexual or gender diversity contained within our Board of Directors. Further yet, the board itself does not fully represent the diversity for which we advocate as an organization. So it is incumbent upon those able to attend the learning session to engage, share, and further educate others beyond the excessively narrowed view of sex, sexuality, and gender as binary subjects.

One valuable element that FOH brought to the session was our range in age demographic. Jeffrey Fisher and Carl Meadows, for example, reflected on the evolution of gay rights activism in the late 20th century. Sexual and gender identity terms have been adopted across different cultures over time along with associated euphemisms: queer, gay/lesbian/bisexual/transexual, genderqueer, cisgender/transgender, intersex, questioning, asexual/pansexual, two-spirited, etc… It is an  ever-growing list of inclusivity. And for every term there is an appropriate set of pronouns. The terms I’ve just listed represent a mere subset of identity perspectives. I haven’t listed them all and know that I still have much to learn.

It’s a broad subject that can be daunting. For me personally, I hold the greatest concerns about others’ sensibilities. Just in compiling that list, I put myself in a vulnerable position of being perceived or labeled as insensitive. Why did I lump certain terms and distinguish others? What gives me the right to define or label anything?  I understand this and unfortunately it worries me to the point of not wanting to speak at all for fear that I am promulgating bias or intolerance, which adds to the confusion.

Joel was extremely helpful. He cut through the confusion held among our group and eloquently explained why these different terms and their usages matter so much. He provided hypothetical scenarios of intolerance that resonated within us all. Joel intelligently conveyed the need for heightened awareness. There was no shortage of context provided among our own experiences as a group, and even though much of what was discussed will forever stay in that room, we all left feeling more aware and better prepared to promote inclusivity within the Foundation and beyond.

On private sponsorship – a lesson in acceptance

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The notion that one Canadian or a group of Canadians are willing to gather the means necessary to bring a refugee into Canada is an indelible aspect of what it means to be Canadian. We are a country of immigrants, from the First Peoples to arrive during the last Ice Age to the current wave of Syrian migrants coming to Canada under a banner of acceptance born out of an historic federal election mandate.

On February 18th, the Multilingual Orientation Service Association for Immigrant Communities (M.O.S.A.I.C.) held a public information session to advise Canadians on the paths for private sponsorship in Canada. M.O.S.A.I.C.’s Refugee Working Group has been looking at trends, assessing levels of need, and developing responses to these needs. This includes the Refugee Family Reunification List developed for would-be sponsors in B.C. with families that are refugees. About 200 people are currently be processed under this program. Another key program is the federal Refugee Sponsorship Training Program (RSTP) managed by Catholic Crosscultural Services and based in Ontario. In Western Canada, RSTP is also managed by M.O.S.A.I.C.

Refugee Sponsorship Support Program (RSSP) Manager Saleem Spindari explained how, through its 30 offices in the greater Vancouver area, M.O.S.A.I.C. is providing support for 1000 refugees following the crisis in September 2015. RSSP trains lawyers to help sponsors with the process itself and help refugees meet requirements for private sponsorship.  RSSP lawyer Kassie Seaby chaired a session explaining the options available in Canada. She presented Lawyer David McLeod, who offers a course on Refugee Protection through UBC Continuing Studies, to describe avenues for private sponsorship in Canada and answer questions held by the attendees.

McLeod explained how policy has evolved for private sponsorship since the onset of the refugee crises in Iraq and Syria. Such policy has reduced the burden of proof required for Iraqi and Syrian refugees by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, formerly known Citizenship and Immigration Canada, at its Central Processing Office in Winnipeg. For all other refugees, he described the role of sponsorship agreement holders (SAHs), groups of five (G5), and community sponsors (CS).

The other key representative at the session was Iris Challoner, who is a refugee information and referral specialist. Through her church, Iris helped resettle a Syrian woman and her two children last spring. She is knowledgable about the role played by various SAHs that have been approved by the Canadian government alongside constituent groups (CG) acting as co-sponsors. M.O.S.A.I.C. is currently working to be recognized as a SAH under the federal government’s refugee acceptance process.

Inclusion of M.O.S.A.I.C. as a SAH will vastly expand upon the options available for individual Canadians looking to take up private sponsorship of LGBT+ refugees seeking asylum or escaping persecution from their countries of origin. These are individuals that remain persecuted when they are among refugees in camps. It is hard to imagine how such an overt lack of both acceptance and inclusivity can affect such individuals on top of the state-level persecution generally affecting populations of refugees living in camps.

If you are interested in private sponsorship, there are many resources available to assist you, from the application process itself through to the arrival and resettlement of newcomers to Canada.

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The year in review: milestones for 2015

Suffice it to say, 2015 was a fast-paced year for Foundation of Hope in terms of establishment and growth. The calendar year was marked by so many achievements and with each successive milestone, it’s becoming clear that a movement is underway.

The overarching goal of FOH is to rise far beyond the individual founders, donors, and membership and become greater than the sum of its parts, stronger than any single government mandate, and more collaborative than any single community, organization, or interest.

The year began as an exploration of how FOH should best reach its potential. Strategic planning, communications, and networking within the larger community led FOH to put a call out to LGBT+ newcomers and newcomer services for direction in its funding mission. The Community Needs Assessment workshop served to hone the Foundation’s purpose, refine its mission, and realize its vision as a registered charity.

Hard work by the volunteer Board of Directors in the spring allowed FOH to draft bylaws and a constitution – important conditions under which FOH became a registered charity with Canada Revenue Agency on April 2nd. Attaining charitable status was a critical milestone and perfectly timed for STRUT, the flagship fundraiser that nabbed over $45,000 in donations from corporate partnerships and the tireless efforts of individual participants who collected donor pledges to strut a mile along the seawall in stiletto heels. The inaugural STRUT event literally kicked off on June 6th and was a smashing success. STRUT is expected to be the springboard for expansion beyond the City of Vancouver in the years to come. Stay tuned!

Working into the summer, FOH managed to formally adopt bylaws in the first Annual General Meeting on July 22nd, which officially established a Board of Directors with standing committees and an Executive team – all of us volunteers. We sure grew up fast! But there is so much to do and no time to be wasted…

…And grow we did. Fundraising efforts ramped up and FOH began to feel the momentum.  Individual organizations have begun to approach us seeking to hold fundraisers on FOH’s behalf, including Neighbourhood HouseMercury Artists, and the generous support of caring individuals in the queer community like Kevin Perra and Peter Fitzmaurice. FOH also teamed up with Chimp to get added exposure to the larger world of online philanthropy. All of this enthusiasm has brought tens of thousands of dollars in to date.

During the 2015 Pride celebration, Prime Minister-to-be Justin Trudeau embraced the queer community and stood proud with FOH as an important ally. He later pledged to the world to reform the way Canada addresses refugees. His decision to bring in 25,000 Syrians by year’s end was further qualified to specifically acknowledge inclusion of members the LGBT+ community.

The Grants Committee developed streams of funding devoted to Sponsorship and Community Services and FOH began to receive applications for financial aid on both sides. The ultimate milestone of the year was the disbursement $25,000 in grants during the first round of applications. This included a total of $17,500 in sponsorship funding awarded to Rainbow Railroad of the Greater Toronto Area in collaboration with the Rainbow Refugee and the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto. The funds will be devoted to assist with the private resettlement of LGBT+ refugees within the Lifeline Syria project, as well as for emergency travel needs. The remaining $7,500 was awarded to MOSAIC, a locally important newcomer services provider that intends to use the funding to directly assist LGBT+ newcomers with much-needed counselling services.

As always, we remind you to consider a donation, no matter how small. Everything counts! Whether it’s your Time, Treasure, or Talent, we are always looking for enthusiastic people who care as much as we do about the plight of refugees.

 

FOH x Mercury Artists
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On behalf of Mercury Artists

On the evening of Thursday, December 17th, Foundation of Hope received a wonderful gift: an unsolicited Christmas fundraiser organized by Christopher Steffler at Mercury Artists. It was a fine evening with talented musicians, all of whom donated their time and showcased their skills.

One of the greatest things about events like this, aside from the generosity of those present, is that it provides an opportunity for people to reflect on the freedom we have in Canada. Such freedom of expression is not evident in vast regions of the world.

At this time, Canada has a heightened sense of the Syrian refugee crisis. Less apparent to many is the treatment of those that identify as LGBT+, many of whom are still under acute persecution, as well as those that have managed to seek some form of asylum.

Beyond the plight of the Syrian LGBT+ community, at least 78 countries still exist under laws that view homosexuality as criminal. This makes it extremely dangerous for queer individuals to behave outside of what the majority of their societies view as “normal”.

Most individuals under persecution have been unable to flee to safety. Many have died or have been severely traumatized. They attempt to survive by keeping a low profile while others are singled out and frequently get verbally and physically assaulted by haters. Such hatred is the true crime.

Foundation of Hope endeavours to help Canadian charities that work to assist LGBT+ individuals seeking asylum from hatred and persecution, as well as LGBT+ newcomers that are currently under resettlement in Canada.

As part of the event, Chad Mathew of Outlook TV interviewed me as a representative of FOH. It was a great opportunity to talk about why ongoing fundraising is such an important pillar of success – just as important as our mission of giving. The interview will be available online some time in January 2016.

Foundation of Hope is incredibly grateful to Mercury Artists for its generosity of spirit at this time of year. The “Family Affair” Holiday Party and Fundraiser is tremendously appreciated by us and everyone we hope to assist through our collective efforts.

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