“No one gets left behind. No one is left out. All are treated with dignity and respect."

— Joseph Gosnell, CC OBC, Laxts’imilx Laxsgiik, Nisga'a Nation

 
6

Foundation of Hope testifies behalf of the Rainbow RAP

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:
Allows any sponsorship agreement holder (SAH) to accept SOGI Refugee applicants irrespective of annual government quotas;
Reduces limits on the number of visa offices across the world accepting private sponsorship applications for SOGI Refugees;
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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View the briefing FOH provided to the Standing Committee, as well as our speaking notes.

2

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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1

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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3

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

4

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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