Refugees get crash course in curling as part of ‘welcome to Canada’ event

Refugees get crash course in curling

TORONTO — Roughly two weeks after arriving in Canada from Thailand, Arun Daniel isn’t quite used to the cold — but he’s getting better acquainted with one of the country’s favourite winter sports.

The 11-year-old and his mother, who originally fled Sri Lanka, were among some 45 government-sponsored refugees getting a crash course in curling at a Toronto club on Wednesday in an effort to welcome them to their new home.

Laughter rang out on the ice as Arun and refugees from several countries, including Syria, Iraq and Iran, took turns sliding, throwing stones and sweeping the ice, with varying success — and, inevitably, the occasional tumble.

“When I see it on TV, I thought it was boring really but then when I really do it, it’s so hard,” he said. “And plus it’s fun when you always fail and you really have to try again, I feel so fun doing it.”

While admitting he’s still a bit awkward on the ice, Arun didn’t hesitate when asked who was better, him or his mother. “Me,” he said with a grin.

The outing, arranged by the organization Together Project, paired the refugees with volunteers who coached them during their first experience with the iconic sport.

The organization was established last November in order to provide government-sponsored refugees with the same kind of community support granted to privately sponsored ones, said director Anna Hill.

The group contacts government-sponsored refugees through COSTI Immigration Services, a community-based agency that offers settlement and social services to immigrants, and matches them with volunteers who help them adjust during their first year in Canada, Hill said. 

“This is a kind of ‘welcome to Canada’ event for refugees who have just arrived,” she said. “So many of them have been here for days or just weeks.”

The organization chose curling because it’s a “fantastic, very Canadian winter sport.”

“We thought that they might be interested in learning about winter sports in Canada since we have quite a long winter here,” Hill said.

“Like many of us when we travel to a new country for the first time, we’re very willing to try things because we want to learn about a new country and what people in that country have fun doing, so I think we have a lot of very enthusiastic participants here.”

Karam Jamalo, 25, said curling was a bit of a novelty after growing up with soccer and basketball.

“All I know about curling right now is I have to play with a group, I have to push this rock and I don’t know what else… it’s weird, kind of,” he said. “I’m not doing very well but I’m still trying to do my best.”

Since arriving from Syria about 10 months ago, Jamalo has taken up ice skating, but he admitted to not having tried hockey despite working at the Air Canada Centre, the home base of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Like Arun, Jamalo said he struggles with the icy temperatures, but added that winter sports have made the adjustment to life in Canada easier.

“Canada is a blessed country, I can try anything here,” he said. “It’s cold in winter but I love it.”

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press