January 17, 2019

BY JENNA BRAUN

While Syrian refugees are waiting to be placed in permanent homes and in schools, many of them have taken to spending time at the Kitchener Public Library.

“The kids, who do not speak English, have discovered our library,” said CEO Mary Chevreau. “At first, just under 40 kids, then over 50, and now, up to 80 at a time. The kids will eventually be placed into schools, but until they have housing, this will not happen and the library is their only source of outside socialization and creative play.”

The KPL staff at the central library worked quickly to create things for the Syrian children to do, including craft making, art, structure building and involvement with technology. Currently, all Kitchener libraries are offering tours to new community members, Arabic books, informal English conversation circles and English as a Second Language material to help them feel as comfortable as possible, meet new people and allow the children to develop essential skills and literacy.

Laura Reed, the manager of children’s and teens services at the library, has been looking into a reading buddies program for when the Syrian children start school so they can remain involved with them.

“The experience has been amazing and exhausting for my whole team,” she said. “One little girl and I have formed a funny little friendship. She sought me out one day this week and we read wordless picture books together. It was lovely.”

According to Reed, the staff are hearing a bit more English from the children as they become more comfortable. She said they’re eager to learn and have been practising making letters and speaking.

“They need the space to play, explore, and create,” said Reed. “I know the impact will be lasting.”

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