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Bilingual teddy bear helps Syrian refugee families integrate into Canada

Bilingual teddy bear helps Syrian refugee families integrate into Canada
WATCH: A new initiative is helping bridge the language and cultural gap for Syrian refugee children who now call Canada home.

A new initiative is helping to bridge the gap between two languages and cultures, while providing comfort to thousands of Syrian refugee children who now call Canada home.

One year ago, Canada welcomed over 32,000 Syrian refugees escaping the war in their home country. Earlier this week, a months-long study from the Senate refugee resettlement committee found that most do not speak English or French, posing a “formidable” obstacle to their integration into their Canadian communities.

COSTI Immigrant Services, a Toronto-based settlement agency, has designed a bilingual teddy bear which they hope will help Syrian refugees overcome this obstacle.

Named “Ahlan,” meaning “welcome” in Arabic, the bear speaks 64 phrases in both English and Arabic. They range from simple greetings to expressions common to Canadian culture (such as “I love hockey!” and “Let’s build a snowman!”)

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READ MORE: Childcare, language training lacking, but ‘key’ to Syrian integration: Senate report

COSTI executive director, Mario Calla, told Global News the goal of the program is to help children create a stable social network once they begin school.

“Most of these children have been living in limbo for the last two to four years in intermediate countries. They pick up what’s going on and pick up their parents’ anxieties,” he said. “But kids are very resilient, so once their situation stabilizes they bounce back.”

One week into the initiative, around 200 bears have been produced and distributed. COSTI relies on donations to cover the cost of the $40 bears, which Calla says are locally made. He says they hope to distribute at least 1,000 bears to newcomers.

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The idea of Ahlan is to open up the language barrier for these children who have only known Arabic.

“In school, [English] is what connects them to others,” said Calla. “We don’t want them to be isolated, so the bear is a beginning for them.”

– with files from Amy Minsky, Global News