“Blessed” Lessons from the Canadian who helped 58 Syrian families resettle

Businessman Jim Estill says his experience helping dozens of Syrian refugee families resettle in Canada has taught him the importance of “gratitude” in his own life.

In the last 18 months, the southern Ontario-based president and CEO of appliance manufacturer Danby put up $1.5 million of his own money to bring 58 Syrian families to Canada. He covered their first year of expenses in the country, in addition to providing services to help with them with the resettlement process.

Estill said that, so far, the biggest challenge has been learning English.

“Maybe a third of them arrived with some English, but if you don’t have any English, it’s very, very hard to become bilingual within a year,” Estill told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday. “And, of course, that’s inversely proportional to age. A five-year-old or a 10-year-old picks up the language very quickly, but a 45-year-old takes longer.”

He offered every refugee a 90-day job working in one of his factories, as well as job-search coaching and training.

But not all of them took him up on the offer.

“For instance, all of the pharmacists who arrived are working in pharmacies, not as pharmacists but as pharmacy assistants, while they get their papers certified and upgraded.”

With an army of volunteers, Estill has said that he organized the sponsorship program similar to a business, including mentors and directors of various departments, including housing, transportation and food.

Estill said that, while he’s always believed in gratitude, the experience has taught him that “we should be very, very grateful for where we live, and the safety, the comfort. Just our state in life.”

He added, “We are very, very blessed.”

But there’s still more work to do. Success for him, Estill said, is having Syrian people in Canada who have “gained independence and have moved on, have jobs, speak English and some degree of integration in the community and some degree of happiness.”

Estill said he is “contemplating” bringing in more refugees. And, as for upcoming Canada 150 celebrations on July 1, he is keeping it low-key.

“We don’t have anything specific or bold planned, but clearly, it will be a celebration.”

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