By Kirk Dudtschak, Executive Vice President, Personal & Commercial Banking, RBC Royal Bank
The arrival of Syrian refugees to our country earlier this year drew the sympathy and support of many individuals and organizations across Canada. Since then, we’ve heard countless stories of efforts, large and small, to help and provide for these individuals. One story close to home stood out for me because of what it says about the needs of these families and the responses that can often make a difference in how newcomers experience and settle into life in Canada.
One of RBC’s branches in Moncton, New Brunswick, was looking for language support to help newly arrived Syrian refugees, who spoke no English, set up their banking. Two of our RBC Advice Centre employees, Amr and Maya, who themselves arrived here as students from Egypt in 2009 and eventually chose to stay, stepped in to assist. In Syria, even the concept of a debit card, for example, is very recent, so in addition to language support, Amr and Maya also explained how banking works in Canada.
What Amr and Maya hadn’t anticipated however was the experience of dealing with many refugees still scarred from their ordeal. As Amr put it, “Many of these families were arriving from camps that held 20,000 to 30,000 refugees, usually sleeping on the ground. They had lost their belongings, their identity.”
Separated from their families and unable to speak English, these refugees developed a connection with Maya and Amr who spent hours in the branch listening to their stories and became a bridge to helping them get established in their new country.
When one of the clients mentioned he’d been searching for a phone charger for days, Amr offered up his personal phone and each of the family members took turns talking to friends and family at home. “They reminded me a bit of myself when I first came to Canada,” shared Maya, “I just wanted to call my mom.” So grateful for the support, these families could not stop hugging these two employees.
Amr and Maya continued to travel to and from the branch to assist up to 10 families a week in setting up accounts and generally providing them with information about life in Canada. In many instances, these two colleagues have also become friends and mentors to the families outside of work.
They have gone from introducing or onboarding these families to banking, to helping onboard and acclimatize them to life in a country that represents their future. As Amr said to me, “Many of the newcomers we spoke to could have gone to other countries, but they chose to come to Canada because of the opportunities, not for themselves, but for their children. It’s really about what they can do for their children.”
RBC has a longstanding history and commitment to helping newcomers to Canada. And in anticipation of the refugees’ arrival, we (like many other organizations) announced funding to support both Syrian refugees and other new immigrants. But it’s Amr and Maya’s story that I have often shared – because it’s not about dollars. They are an undeniable example of the significance of employee efforts in local communities and how each of us can have a very profound and sustainable impact on the experiences and success of newcomers today, and on future generations.
Learn more about RBC’s leadership in diversity and inclusion:
- Procurement Mentorships: RBC Royal Bank Mentors Diverse Suppliers
- “Diversity and Entrepreneurship” Keynote Speech (transcript) by Kirk Dudtschak, RBC Royal Bank
- “Diversity and Entrepreneurship” Keynote Speech (video) by Kirk Dudtschak, RBC Royal Bank
- RBC Newcomer Advantage
Magnet, Ryerson University in partnership with Hire Immigrants produced this article. The article is made possible with the funding from the Government of Ontario.