Sector: Social & Human Services
A community gathering place
“CAFA is like a comfort zone for newcomers,” says Yazan Haymour.
Now, as the president of the Canadian Arab Friendship Association (CAFA), he works hard to further develop that sense of belonging, and help every community member get the support they need to thrive.
“It bridges gaps and at the same time assists people and helps the transition from one culture to another culture. We help with people who want to maintain their language, their religion… we try to help in every area as possible.” That role has become even more effective now that the organization has ownership of its own facility.
Over the past four decades, Haymour has seen a lot of changes in Edmonton’s Arab community. Since moving to the city in 1976, he’s watched the community grow both in size, and in its sense of community spirit.
Haymour was introduced to CAFA almost immediately after he arrived in Edmonton. The association was involved in the Heritage Festival, and Haymour saw it as a welcoming landing pad to help him adjust to life in this new city.
“That was the first experience for me at the Heritage Festival, so I joined CAFA because I found there is a need to assist and help immigrant people to become productive citizens of Canada,” he says.
Since 1965, CAFA has been supporting the Arab community in Edmonton, offering services for newcomers and well-established families alike. It’s an important community service provider, offering everything from translation and interpretation support to passport and immigration application assistance, to language and life skills training. CAFA even offers an early childhood development program to over 200 children, which routinely has a waitlist of 30 to 40 more.
“These services make CAFA more valuable because, people, they find CAFA is like a way to become Canadian,” he says.
“Our mandate is to be there to help and assist anyone who’s in a situation that comes to us. Our minds, our hearts, our doors are open for them. We’re here to help and assist in any way we can.”
From early childhood development programs to language classes or social supports, all of CAFA’s services are offered out of an unassuming 7,500 square-foot space in a north Edmonton strip mall. The Dickinsfield Mall has housed CAFA throughout most of its history, and as a result, has become a landmark for many newcomers in the Arab community.
“This location in particular, Dickinsfield Mall, it becomes known to every newcomer from the Middle East. The minute you say CAFA, they know where it is,” he says.
For many years, CAFA rented its space in the strip mall, but when the building’s owner announced plans to sell the property, CAFA’s board of directors saw an opportunity. Rather than search for a new home, it was time to firmly root the association’s long-term operations there.
“Most newcomers, lots of them they don’t have a car, so they just walk. In Dickinsfield Mall, it’s easy for them to walk into CAFA’s office and receive their services, and for us to help them with whatever they need,” he says.
“So the board decided that the mall will be the most appropriate site for CAFA to keep.”
Thanks to financing help from SEF, CAFA was able to purchase the strip mall, securing a long-term home for the association. As an added bonus, the property could also provide a long-term revenue stream through rental income.
But the adjustment from tenant to landlord hasn’t been without its bumps.
“There’s been a big learning curve,” laughs Abulghani Haymour, who works as the onsite manager for the property. He says CAFA’s passion and vision for the future has spurred them on.
“We see this as an opportunity of a lifetime for the purposes that CAFA seeks to achieve,” he says.
“We don’t want CAFA to be something that serves the community only in our lifetimes. We want it to be a self-sufficient and perpetual entity that can be here after we’re gone. Purchasing the mall could help achieve that. That’s what made this a very important move that we had to work for.”