Newly arrived refugees to the Greater Toronto Area will now have the chance to learn English free of charge, thanks to a local tutoring service.

On February 1, Luke’s Tailored Tutoring launched the Academic Displaced Persons Program, a free tutoring service for incoming refugees. Focused on providing newcomers with the fundamentals of English, the program aims to help the refugees attain their high school diploma and GED.

Menelek Luke is the founder and academic coordinator of Luke's Tailored Tutoring. He began the organization in 2011.
Menelek Luke is the founder and academic coordinator of Luke’s Tailored Tutoring. He started the organization in 2011.

Though based in Whitby, program sessions will be held throughout the Toronto and Durham Region.

Menelek Luke, founder and academic coordinator of Luke’s Tailored Tutoring, says he was inspired by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to create the Academic Displaced Persons Program. Back in October, the then-opposition leader promised to resettle some 25,000 Syrian refugees if elected. Since winning the election, more than 15,000 refugees have arrived in Canada and at least 10,000 more are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

Realizing the struggles they would likely face integrating into a new society, Luke says he felt compelled to help the refugees become independent and self-sufficient.

“If we’re going to help I think the best way to help them- that I can help them- is through education, which I specialize in,” says Luke. “In Canada, the best way to [become independent] is through education.”

Currently, the Academic Displaced Persons program is only open to privately-sponsored refugees. Luke’s Tailored Tutoring (which recently secured a team of fluently Arabic tutors) is also offering free math and science lessons to the newcomers.

The program comes at a time when many organizations are struggling to keep up with the increasing demand for English language courses. As more refugees arrive in Canada, the already lengthy waitlists grow longer (some organizations in British Columbia say their waitlists can be up to a year or more). Although refugees are often given priority, some who have had to wait have spoken of the frustrations and anxiety of trying to build a new life in a country where they do not speak the language.

The inability to meet such a demand is just one of many challenges the government has faced in resettling the refugees. Though the Liberal government initially aimed to settle all 25,000 by the end of 2015, that deadline was pushed to March 1. And despite Trudeau’s repeated assurances that all accepted refugees will undergo a “robust, multi-layered screening,” many Canadians have expressed security concerns and criticized the prime minister’s determination to resettle so many refugees in such a short period of time.

These concerns have only intensified following the Paris Attacks that claimed the lives of at least 129 people in November.

Some have also blasted the government for “pampering” the newcomers and providing them with what appear to be free services. Though aware of the potential backlash his program may face, Luke says the opportunity to help those in need is greater than the possible negative response.

A Syrian refugee family arrives in Toronto. ©Domnic Santiago

“I do understand that there are people here who could benefit from free tutoring,” says Luke, adding that his company does offer free services to all students in the month of August. “But at the same time, this is a cause we want to help with. There are people who need more help at this time.”

“Until you’ve been through what they’ve been through, then you can say something,” says Luke.

Luke’s Tailored Tutoring began in 2011 and currently offers a wide range of academic services to students with a variety of educational needs. Affiliated with the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, the organization has assisted nearly 250 students since it began five years ago.

While the Academic Displaced Persons Program is the organization’s first venture onto the humanitarian scene, Luke is encouraging others to do more to help Canada’s newest members.

“They’ve come from a place that no one in Canada can ever understand and we can only try to empathize with them by making their life better,” he says. “We have to make them feel welcome.”


Feature image ©Domnic Santiago

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