Two Ontario residents are hoping to make a small difference in the lives of Syrian refugee children settling in the GTA. Nicole Baillargeon and Andrea Pearce are planning to publish a Welcome to Toronto colouring book in late February. Currently, they’re fundraising online to cover the printing and binding costs for over 800 books.
“It’s a colouring book that has images of Toronto and relating to Toronto that can help to welcome the Syrian refugee children to the city and help them get to know their new surroundings,” Baillargeon says by phone. “It will also have some simple English sentences to help them learn basic English, and those will be translated into basic Arabic.”
Baillargeon says the idea for creating a colouring book came from an already existing project happening in Windsor. Bronwen Wood, a local school teacher, gathered artists’ illustrations for a Welcome to Windsor book for young refugees late last year. Baillargeon contributed a drawing and then decided to launch a similar project with Pearce.
“We started talking and thought, ‘Why couldn’t this be done in Toronto since we both knew so many people who’d be willing to help?’” she says. “When we put out the call to artists, we sent it mostly to friends and colleagues who we thought would be interested.”
The young women have a large network of friends who are artists and designers in the GTA. Pearce, a Toronto resident, studied illustration at the Ontario College of Art and Design and Baillargeon received a degree in architecture at the University of Toronto. The Welcome to Toronto colouring book will feature 25 artists and is expected to be around 30 pages. All of the illustrations are donated and the $5,000 they’re hoping to raise will go solely to publishing costs.
“If we go beyond $5,000 and have extra, we want to collect colour pencils and crayons to donate along with the books,” Baillargeon says.
The colouring books will be distributed for free with help by the Syrian Canadian Council in Toronto. While the initial intention behind the colouring books was to simply help incoming refugees get to know their new home, Baillargeon says she hopes the gesture might provide comfort to kids in other ways.
“It turns out that colouring is a very therapeutic activity and helps a lot with focus, stress relief and anxiety relief, and we feel like this could be a very nice gift to welcome the children and hopefully be therapeutic in some way,” she says. “That’s not something we had particular thoughts about when we liked the idea but after doing a little bit of research, it confirms that this is more than just giving them a toy. It goes a little bit deeper than that.”
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