2016 was one of the worst years for the world, in terms of human rights: there seemed to be no end to the crisis in Aleppo, among other tragedies. People were made to leave their homes and lost loved ones in one of the biggest refugee crises to date. Florence Chaussé, a student at McGill, was inspired by her environment and the influx of refugees in Montreal, and decided to create HANY: an organization that would help integrate refugees into their new everyday lives.
Read on to learn how HANY came about, and how Florence turned her dream into a reality.
Nimra Adil for Her Campus McGill (HC McGill): Tell us a little about yourself, Florence.
Florence Chaussé (FC): I am from the suburbs of Montreal, from a town called Mont-Saint-Hilaire and I moved to Montreal four years ago for Cegep. I’m a second year student majoring in Economics with Honors and a minor in German.
HC McGill; How did HANY start and what made you interested in this cause?
FC: I got the idea for HANY last year and we officially started this past September. The biggest thing for me was to get involved with helping refugees, but there weren’t any opportunities for students at McGill or in Montreal. So, what I really wanted to do was to capitalize on the energy of university students. A few years back, I had an internship with Ms. Louise Dandavino at the Director of Youth Protection and her passion for human rights really resonated with me and my time with her became a determining factor for my professional goals and life purpose. The main idea for HANY came to me when I was looking at the UNHCR blog and came across this video about a Syrian refugee named HANY. At first, when I told people about my idea they were skeptical, but with the help of my friend and cofounder, Rachel, we brought it to life. We had the idea to launch HANY as we were questioning our own commitments and obligations in the face of the largest humanitarian crisis of our time. HANY is in a way the denouement of several of our discussions on the Syrian civil war, Canadian immigration policies and refugee rights.
We offer French and English tutoring services and will soon also be introducing at home tutoring for families due to a growing demand from refugees to help them with their homework and build on their conversation skills. Our curriculum is also made by students. I wanted every aspect of HANY to be developed and created by students.
HC McGill: Have you always had a passion for social work?
FC: Yes, I started getting involved very young. At the age of 12 I would volunteer at a home for the elderly every week. I’ve always been attracted to volunteering but my interest in human rights started growing in the past few years, since 2011.
HC McGill: What are the difficulties of starting a new organization?
FC: The biggest difficulty for us is that no one at HANY is paid. Everyone who is involved are students and they are all volunteers. So it was hard to maintain a consistent team as some people quit or left. We want to give quality services, which can be difficult while organizing the administrative aspect.
HC McGill: What are your goals as President this year?
FC: I truly believe that students have the potential to be human rights advocates. By pairing university students with refugees, we want to offer them the opportunity to play a decisive role in addressing global issues. This year is our pilot project where we’ve started our French/English tutoring for beginner levels. Next, we want to add an intermediate level in the summer, and advanced in the fall. My goal is make our quality of service as good as possible and make our model as transferable as possible for other chapters. People associate HANY with tutoring, but we want to put the emphasis on social integration, for example organizing sociocultural activities. Our main partner ALPA is offering workshops for the refugees on how to write a resume and explaining the health system in Quebec; these are classes that will help them function easily in society. Developing a mental health program for refugees is an aim for us as well. A long term goal is to make chapters of HANY at different universities.
HC McGill: How do you manage HANY with other aspects of your life?
FC: I’m also involved with an online tutoring program with Professor Mattheiu Chemin here at McGill. Being so busy has made me more organized and made me make a constant effort to socialize or study.
I manage my time by doing yoga twice a week, by having to do lists, and having the constant will to work hard, which is very important. My family and friends are also an amazing support group, without them I wouldn’t be able to manage everything as I have up until now.
HC McGill: Top three places in Montreal?
FC: This is so hard but I guess it would have to be;
3. Café Nocturne (best expresso in town)
HC McGill: How can others get involved with HANY?
FC: Anyone can support us through donating on our GoFundMe page.
Although subcommittee positions are all currently filled, university students can apply to be a tutor at any time. We have a waiting list of interested tutors that have been contacted and interviewed throughout past semesters and we select them based on their performance during their interview and overall experience.
We also have an event coming up for those interested in HANY and the refugee crisis; Sunday, February 5th, 2017: HANY Summit on Refugees at the Notman House.
After a great conversation, we parted ways. Florence had taught me so much about HANY and I can’t wait to help out myself.
If you feel like you need to do your part in helping the current refugee crisis, then donate or volunteer with HANY and help a refugee get accustomed to their new life. It’s important to play our part, no matter how small, in shaping a future that’s better than their past.
Images provided by interviewee.