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Canadian Businessman Is On A Mission To Help Syrian Refugee Families

ALLISON AUBREY, HOST:

We go now to Guelph, Canada, in southwestern Ontario where, for the past year, Canadian businessman Jim Estill has made it his mission to help resettle 50 Syrian refugee families. That's about 200 people. His program, called Ease into Canada, helps refugees learn English, find housing and jobs. Some of the jobs are at Estill's own company, Danby, which manufactures small appliances. And he bought a dollar store franchise for one Syrian refugee to manage. We wanted to learn more about Jim's efforts to resettle refugees in Guelph, so we've reached him on the line. He joins us via Skype.

Hi, there.

JIM ESTILL: Hello.

AUBREY: So why did you decide to take this project on of resettling all these families? Did you have a personal connection to Syria?

ESTILL: No, I had no personal connection. But I'm a humanitarian. I could see what was happening. And it's - this is probably the biggest humanitarian crisis of my lifetime, and I didn't want to grow old and say I stood by and did nothing. So I decided to do my small part.

AUBREY: Now, when a Syrian family arrives there, how do they find you? Or do you find them?

ESTILL: Well, there's a lot of paperwork, and it takes six months to do security clearance. Then they finally arrive. And then when they arrive, we pick them up at the airport. And we usually billet them for two to six weeks with a family, and then we move them into their own apartment or townhouse.

AUBREY: And once they move into a townhouse or apartment, then the work starts of finding a job, learning to speak English - these are huge undertakings, right?

ESTILL: Exactly. I am a business person, so I organized it like a business. I have a director of jobs, director of housing, director of transportation, director of mentorship. And one of the most important things is the mentorships. So each family is assigned an Arabic-speaking mentor family and four or five English-speaking mentor families. Then we use checklists to make sure that they ride the bus with them to show them how to use the bus, get a library card, get their health card, set up a bank account.

And so we're basically just trying to help people through a hard time. Success is 50 families settling, working, paying taxes, buying groceries where I buy groceries and speaking English with some degree of integration. I will have failed if I bring in people that end up on welfare, in my opinion.

AUBREY: Tell us about some of the people you've helped so far. What are their stories?

ESTILL: I brought in a family of seven, a mom and dad and their five children. The oldest son is 17 years old and had not been in school for five years. And his daughter had been 16 and not been in school for five years. And so when they came in, the son thought he should work and not go to school. But we convinced him. He went to school, and now he's loving it. So it's all good.

AUBREY: Now I know that not everyone can think through, you know, sponsoring refugees. But here in the States, I know people who have helped, for instance, get an apartment set up for a family that's arriving. Are there little ways to help?

ESTILL: Absolutely. And that depends on the family, but we have specific material needs. And we put the call out say - oh, we need new double-bed mattresses. Oh, we need new linens. We need towels - and people donate all of that. So donating and keeping those goods in circulation is a very positive thing to do. What people tend to do is say, oh, it's the spring. I'll get rid of my winter clothing. No, don't do that.

AUBREY: People need it now.

ESTILL: Exactly. Do it in the fall. So do it opposite.

AUBREY: Are you going to see some of these people that you've helped settle over the holidays? Have you formed personal relationships, friendships with them?

ESTILL: Oh, yes. I know all 47 families. So a typical evening for me is I often go have tea at one house and dinner at another house. And I'll stop in in the morning. And so I know most of them for sure.

AUBREY: That's Canadian businessman Jim Estill. He joined me from Ottawa.

Thank you so much. This has been really inspiring.

ESTILL: Well, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.