Renmart Buhay (left) and Alanah Lam are two of four SFU students who worked to create a “Welcome to Surrey” colouring book for refugee families. (Photo: Amy Reid)

Settlement

Colouring book aims to help Syrian refugees learn about Surrey

400 copies of the book have been distributed to agencies throughout Surrey, with demand for more

A team of four SFU students have created a “Welcome to Surrey” colouring book for the many refugee families who settle in this city.

The idea was born in September of 2018 in SFU’s “Health Change Lab,” a program that involves students working in interdisciplinary teams to develop a projects that addresses a pertinent social, environmental, or economic challenge concerning community health in Surrey.

“Our team focused on resettlement, given roughly 50 per cent of refugees from B.C. come to Surrey. There’s a lot of need in that area,” explained Renmart Buhay, one of four students that created the colouring book project.

“We found that children are another gateway for their parents to learn English for example or find community resources such as the library, parks, etc., given that children who are newcomers have an easier time learning English and are more exposed to different resources in the community. We found that using a very fun element of a colouring book would be a good way to expose these resources,” said Buhay, noting similar books have been done in Windsor, Toronto and Calgary.

READ ALSO: Free app launches to help immigrants, refugees as they settle in B.C. 

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The colouring book aims to introduce locations and resources in Surrey to refugee families through a fun narrative story of a Syrian family traveling all over Surrey.

In their travels, this family visits the Newton Wave Pool, Crescent Beach, City Centre Library and a variety of other landmarks.

It also provides a list of resources at the end of the book.

“Another part of our colouring book is we’ve been interviewing refugee families an getting their feedback on images and resources they want to see in the colouring book,” he explained. “We’ve found we need to talk to the people who have their own experiences and stories – so that was another aspect of our stories, really finding those cultural nuances.

“For example, one aspect that was interesting to learn, is in one of our initial drafts we had a family sitting at a table, and we found that it would be a bit more meaningful, because one of the practices was eating on the carpet floor for example, was a more realistic depiction than what we initially thought. So it was those things we got to clarify during our interview.”

While the book depicts a Syrian family, it’s translated into Arabic, making it a resource for the broader Arabic-speaking newcomers who settle in Surrey.

The project also involved enlisting 14 artists, some SFU students and some from Emily Carr, to do the sketches and layout the book as well as a translator to assist in the interview process.

In order to make the book a reality, the students applied for a grant through the SFU community student engagement competition and landed a $3,000 award.

“We finally had the funding to actually make it to a reality, our project,” he added.

In late October, 400 copies were printed and they have since been distributed to settlement agencies and community partners.

“So Immigrant Services Society of BC, Options, New Hope Community Services, Surrey Libraries, the City of Surrey,” said Buhay. “We have huge demand now, so we’re thinking about how we can do a second batch.”

Alanah Lam, another student involved in the project, said she’s thrilled to see the book gain traction.

“In our initial research we found that a lot of newcomers are confused when they come here. They’re surrounded by a lot of information and it’s a bit of information overload with pamphlets given to them, a lot of very formal types of resources that can be hard to sift through,” she said.

Lam said it was important to create an informal resource that could be “observed passively, and start with children instead of just giving it to parents and having them send the information down.”

“In our interviews we found that a lot of the time, children interact with their parents and grandparents in helping them learn English because the kids tend to pick it up much faster,” she explained. “So we wanted some sort of resource that was fun but also bridged the gap between the generations.”

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(Alanah Lam is one of four SFU students who worked to create a “Welcome to Surrey” colouring book for refugee families. Photo: Amy Reid)



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