Jacob Zinn/News Staff Fig Deli owner Yasser Youssef has been providing Syrian refugees with baskets of “Syrian maple syrup” and foods from their home countries to make them feel at home on Vancouver Island. Word of his generosity led to a partnership with the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria

Saanich’s Fig Deli reaching out to refugees with a taste of home

Fig Deli is preparing baskets for Syrian refugee filled with foods from their home country such (olive oil, baladi bread and more)

Canadians have done a lot to make Syrian refugees feel welcome, but one man in Saanich has done a lot to make them feel at home.

When refugees started coming to Vancouver Island, Yasser Youssef, owner of the Fig Deli, prepared baskets filled with foods from their home country such as olive oil, baladi bread and flavourful dips. He got the idea after some regular customers who had sponsored a refugee family came into his store one day to talk about the refugee crisis.

“My customers were asking my opinion, since I come from that region, on what to have ready for these families who are just arriving,” said Youssef, who was born in Lebanon near the border with Syria.

“One of my customers said, ‘I’m a Canadian citizen. If I go to Lebanon or to Syria, would I find maple syrup there?’ We packed up some food – Syrian maple syrup, let’s say – and we said, ‘This is our gift to your family,’ and it snowballed from there.”

Youssef, who immigrated to Canada when he was 17, said he understands the feeling of homesickness and uncertainty that refugees feel when displaced from their homes. That was a big part of why he started making baskets for newcomers.

“You struggle and go through phases, but eventually, you settle in,” he said. “Any help that I received in the past, I really appreciate it and I still remember it.”

Word of Youssef’s generosity spread, not just throughout the community, but to the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria. The ICA offers services for immigrants and refugees such as integration counselling, translation and interpretation, job search assistance and English classes.

“We’ve had a relationship with Yasser for quite some time now,” said Lauren Kelly, executive assistant with the ICA. “This was something that just appealed to him. This was his initiative that we were happy to partner in.”

Through that partnership, Youssef and the ICA have looked ahead to the next phase of supporting refugees by transitioning them to the workforce. They have proposed a 17-week project-based labour market training initiative to the provincial government, asking the Ministry of Labour to allocate some funding and recommending the ICA manage the program.

“Its main focus is on sales and service occupations, which kind of speak to a lot of backgrounds that people already have,” said Kelly, noting there are many skilled and educated refugees having difficulty finding work. “This would provide employment assistance as well as unpaid placement for six weeks of work experience.”

Youssef said there are challenges in integrating refugees into Canadian society, but he hopes programs like the one proposed will help newcomers settle and start to call Canada home.

“Any kind of comfort that we can provide to them right now and get them going, I think we will benefit from it as a community,” he said.

 

jacob.zinn@saanichnews.com

 

 

Just Posted

Trees topped, greenery snatched from Saanich park

‘If everyone took one thing, there’d be nothing left,’ says president of park society

New Saanich resident says volunteers get back as much as they give

Saanich Volunteers Services Society member encourages others to help the community

West Shore Parks and Rec offers holiday childcare alternatives

Camps available on days many daycares close

VIDEO: Royals shock Thunderbirds with 3-1 win

Hundreds of stuffed animals thrown on ice to support local charities for Christmas

VIDEO: SNL skewers Trudeau’s mockery of Trump in high school cafeteria sketch

The three world leaders won’t let Trump sit at the cool kids’ table

Greater Victoria 2019 holiday craft fair roundup

Get a jump on your holiday shopping

Kovrig clings to humour as ‘two Michaels’ near one year in Chinese prison

Their detention is widely viewed as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou

B.C. VIEWS: An engine that hums right along

First Nations are leading a new surge of investment in B.C.

Brain injury from domestic abuse a ‘public health crisis,’ says B.C. researcher

Nearly 80% of the domestic violence victims who reported to police last year were women

B.C.-born hockey official talks to IIHF about switching European rule book to NHL rules

Rob Shick will represent NHL at 4th World Hockey Forum in Russia

Miller nets winner as Canucks edge Sabres 6-5 in OT

Roussel, Leivo tally two apiece for Vancouver

$578: that’s how much your first distracted driving ticket will cost with recent premium hikes

Over 50 per cent of Canadians admitted to using phone while driving last year, according to study

Kelowna man attempts to steal bait bike from RCMP parking lot

38-year-old Brian Richard Harbison is facing several charges

Most Read