A program called Creative Inclusivity, organized by volunteer Liz Zur, is being run by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Toronto Branch. The program for Ukrainian children displaced by the war started in mid-December and is actively developing. The class is designed for 12 children, but usually about 14 attend. Every other Saturday morning, the children, who often have special needs, meet for an hour of arts and crafts and games. Each lesson lasts one hour, but they don’t want to leave, so they usually jump in for an hour and a half,” says Liz Zur, the program’s team leader.
Liz was inspired by a lecture given by our Director Iryna Sergienko back in October for a wide range of volunteers from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress organization. In addition to advice on trauma and autism, Iryna advised not to try to do everything on your own, but to work together with existing organizations that have resources and similar humanitarian tasks.
On reflection, Liz approached Archdeacon Stephen McIlwain, head of the Toronto-based Christian community Redeemer, with the idea. He says the church was excited about the prospect and the collaboration. Redeemer provided the space free of charge and committed to a number of classes, which added stability to the program.
As the mother of a child with special needs, Zur says she can relate to the parents of children with special needs who come to Canada from Ukraine. About one-third of the children in the program have developmental disabilities such as autism and PWS.
The main difficulty is that the newcomers do not have refugee status – the parents and children in the program are not eligible for many resources for people with disabilities in Canada. Those who do get on the list of services often have to wait for a long time.
This is why this group is particularly vulnerable. Parents worry about paying the rent, buying food and clothes. They don’t have extra money to spend on art, entertainment or socializing for their child. Most of the volunteers are newcomers who help the newcomers to actively integrate. This community is for all Ukrainian children and families who left their friends and came to Canada because of the war and are still lonely. The Creative Inclusion initiative helps families adapt and rebuild their lives.