Mawlana: giving back to the cause for safe migration

Raphaël and Galilio are a gay couple who fled persecution from their home countries to Turkey before coming to Canada as asylum seekers. In March 2020, they opened up Mawlana, a small boutique shop on Granville Island named after the Sufi poet Rumi. They sell handmade cashmere, silk scarves, shoes, soap, jewelry, and other accessories. Many of these goods were made by women in a refugee community in Turkey. The concept of Mawlana reflects not only their culture, but also the cultures of the people they left behind.

Unfortunately, Mawlana had to close weeks after opening in March due to the pandemic. Nonetheless, this did not dampen Raphaël and Galilio’s enthusiasm to succeed in Canada, their new home. They are resilient and worked nonstop to take thousands of pictures of their products to facilitate online sales. Mawlana is now open for shopping both online at and in-store at Granville Island (1670 Duranleau St, Vancouver). 

This holiday season, Mawlana will be donating 10% of the proceeds from their rainbow soap box sales to the Rainbow Foundation of Hope so we can continue helping refugees and asylum seekers like Raphaël and Galilio. These beautiful soap boxes contain soaps of all the colours of the rainbow and represent the beautiful, vibrant community that we all love. We at Rainbow Foundation of Hope will definitely be doing our holiday shopping at Mawlana. We hope that everyone will consider paying a visit, whether physically or virtually, this holiday season to support a beautiful and local refugee-owned business that embodies true strength and resilience. Thank you to Raphaël and Galilio for your compassion and generosity. This is why we have hope.


A STRUT through 5 years of giving and 50 years of freedom

Who knew back in the summer of 2014 that STRUT would bring in over a quarter of a million dollars in just five short years? 

Well, we did.

That’s because of the unwavering vision and enthusiasm of Carl Meadows, a champion of the cause for safe migration of LGBT+ refugees. Carl brought a small group of committed citizens together to change the world. 

Sound familiar? It should. Last year FOH made its 4th annual STRUT walk, which coincided with 40 years of celebrating Pride in Vancouver. This year, our 5th STRUT walk coincided with 50 years of decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada and brought in over $50,000. 

It is certainly a great trajectory and FOH’s prospects for growth and expansion are even better with some exciting new partnerships we will be rolling out in the coming months.


One such partnership is with the UNHCR, a global body established to identify and address the worldwide refugee crisis. This year FOH was invited to participate in UNHCR’s global awareness campaign. It was the perfect complement to the funds we raise locally with the collective distance we would walk in solidarity through STRUT.

Along with over $50,000 in funds raised, FOH saw 74 participants walk together in collective total of 119 km this year. Over the past five years, that amounts to 552 participants and 840 km, which can now be added to the 2 Billion Kilometres to Safety campaign.

Funds raised through STRUT will continue to go directly into grants awarded to Canadian charities working to resettle SOGIE migrants, but this was an opportunity for our local grassroots movement to go even further and contribute to a global awareness movement to #StepWithRefugees worldwide.

The fresh injection of donor funds can now be used to support the six grant applications led by our community partners in Vancouver and Toronto. These are currently under review for both LGBT+ refugee private sponsorship support and newcomer community service projects.

The timing was also just right for STRUT this year, falling on the heels of the announcement by the Government of Canada to expand its support for LGBT+ private resettlement efforts. Thanks to the work of the Rainbow Coalition for Refuge , the ongoing consultations that have persisted since 2017 with Global Affairs Canada and IRCC are finally paying off!

Private resettlement support of LGBT+ individuals facing persecution worldwide will involve a five-year extension of the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Program (RRAP) and an expanded $800,000 funding commitment. Rainbow Refugee founder Chris Morrissey came to make the announcement about the RRAP before participants strutted their stuff on the seawall.

Our community partners that benefit from FOH grants showed up in teams, including MOSAIC, Qmunity, and VAST, along with members from numerous Circles of Hope and corporate teams led by TELUS and TD Bank.


We are ever grateful for all the corporate sponsors and partners that came onboard, old and new. These include the 2019 platinum partner TELUS and platinum sponsor Hootsuite, as well as the supportive partnerships with Ruby Blues Winery, DJ Krista, Fountainhead, Glacier Media, Portable Electric, and Innocent Ice Cream.

Of course we cannot go without acknowledging our faithful long-standing contributors that include TD Bank, Pacific Alps Retirement, Kevin Perra Realty, PI Financial, Fluevog Shoes, Body Energy Club, and Andrew Beckerman.

Special thanks also go out to Squamish Elder Byron Yususultxw Longclaws and Hlgu Ni’is Yu’us (Terry Azak) of Nisga’a Nation for their annual opening welcome and blessing. We also thank Miss Gloria Hole and Miss Mina Mercury of Tuck Entertainment for the spectacular performance. Thanks to Christopher Hunte and Barb Snelgrove, respectively, for their continual support with the event programming and for hosting the affair. Big thanks as well to Jay Brotherton at HIM (those legs!) for leading the warm up event.

We are so grateful to welcome Outook TV as a dedicated LGBT+ media partner and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are an unmistakable presence year upon year. Tremendous thanks to Brian Houle for his incredible photography.

And of course, we are so fortunate for all the donors, volunteers, and STRUT walkers who took the time to support this cause and raise the funds that enable safe migration of LGBT+ asylum seekers and refugees worldwide.

In the words of Carl Meadows, it truly does take a village.


Strutting for HOPE

Moe Sonko moved to Canada in 2012 to seek protection as a refugee because homosexuality is not only illegal; but also punishable by 14 years to life in prison where he is from.

Moe was born and raised in The Gambia, a very small West African country. Walking a mile in pink high heels to help raise funds and awareness for LGBT+ refugees was a big deal and something very close to Moe’s heart because he was a refugee myself.

By participating in STRUT, he put his face on homosexuality for young kids growing up in The Gambia so they wouldn’t feel alone in this world like he did. It wasn’t until Moe moved to England that he learned about others like him in this world.

“If I can help one kid feel secure and not alone, that makes me happy.”

Moe arrived in Vancouver on a very cold/rainy day in October of 2012. He had never been here before and with no family or friends here he had nowhere to go and very little money. Moving here all by himself was the scariest thing he had ever done in his life.

He vividly remembers getting out of the train and thinking, “I have no idea what I am doing or if I will even survive this mentally and emotionally, but I am ready to make this chapter in my life a good one.”

All Moe wanted was to live in a country when he can be himself without the fear of persecution.

“I feel very lucky to have the support of my family and to be living in a country like Canada where I can be my authentic self and express myself however I want. That’s not the case for so many LGBT+ men and women around the world, who are prosecuted or even killed for being who they truly are.”

“I feel it is my duty to be the voice for the voiceless, to help bring awareness.”

The freedom of expression is what STRUT represents and that includes non-gender conformity: men in dresses, wearing makeup or heels, and vice versa for women. People should be free to express themselves however they please and without any fear of persecution!

Moe often asks people “Have you ever had your heart broken?” Imagine the things you have known as a child—the food, the people, your childhood home, your neighbors, playgrounds, the smell of the air… Then imagine having all of that taken away from you forever and to never have it back.

That is the heartbreaking reality of being an LGBT+ refugee and it really identifies what STRUT is all about.


Hope in community: exploring Vancouver’s queer newcomer services provider network

As our foundation closes in our first round of grants, it is important for us to build relationships with the LGBT+ community and with those who eventually might apply for them. Part of that work involves getting to know the various service providers and grass roots organizations that do great work with LGBT+ newcomers.

As a board member, I have been assigned a number of tasks and recently I visited Catarina Moreno, Program Manager for Qmunity, located in the heart of Davie Village. Cat invited me for tea and a tour of the place, which includes a library with a youth lounge, meeting rooms for free counseling services, and the Bute Street Clinic jointly administered with Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH). When we sat down, she began by telling me about Qmunity’s four main program streams.

“We build community through a range of programs including drop-ins for free counseling and health and wellness services,” Cat told me. “We provide queer competency training that allows services providers to remain respectful and offers teaching tools for schools. We advocate through various forms of engagement to increase our visibility and we provide space for connection that celebrates queer community.”

Qmunity increasingly provides services to LGBT+ newcomers as part of a larger services provider network (SPN), which I attended with Cat the same weekThe group includes representatives Mosaic Settlement and Family Services, Immigrant Services Society (ISS) of BC, and Raven Song Community Health Centre, among other attendees.

The group gives service providers a chance to network on each other’s resources and identify gaps in the community. But after a while the discussion seemed to focus on one issue: housing.

Finding safe, long-term housing is an issue for many refugees who often face additional discrimination. Under the resettlement assistance program, government-sponsored refugees have access to temporary housing such as Welcome Houses, but only for as little as two weeks, according to Dorcas Mendez of ISS. Living in or near downtown Vancouver is also expensive, but that is also where most services for LGBT+ refugees are located. So many choose to live further away from the city, where they can become isolated.

To combat this issue, Mosaic identified the need for LGBT+ support groups and recommended service providers consider sending clients to Mosaic’s I Belong program — a six-month pilot project funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). I Belong supports LGBT+ immigrant newcomers by learning about “the intersectionality between sexuality, gender, race, cultural diversity, class, criminalization, and colonialism.” The project provides support groups and one-on-one community connection opportunities, conducted research to learn of existing gaps, and put forward recommendations in a report.

“Mosaic is taking baby steps and learning, building capacity, and remaining transparent”, says Roja Bagheri, Mosaic’s Program Coordinator. Funding for I Belong runs out on March 25 and currently does not extend beyond this stage.

My impression from the meeting is that clear deficiencies exist in terms of opportunities available to LGBT+ newcomers. Lack of housing and community support services are chief concerns held by the SPN; however, the willingness to meet and share resources and information is encouraging. It opens the door to a more collaborative approach. Foundation of Hope intends to be more involved with the SPN moving forward.


Valuable lessons learned at FOH community grants needs assessment workshop

The Foundation of Hope has moved one step closer to supporting LGBT+ refugees in Canada with its first community needs grants assessment. Representatives from across the LGBT+ community, refugee service providers, and grassroots organizations all joined up with FOH Board members on February 1, 2015. The goal of the meeting was to advise on how FOH can best target community grants to effectively benefit LGBT+ newcomers.

The group looked at potential grant categories that FOH is considering and provided feedback on each item. “It was really neat how we came to the community with our ideas on how we could help and they came back to us and said the community needs more capacity for sharing and collaborating across sectors,” said FOH Chairperson Carl Meadows.

The FOH grant development committee offered up items including housing, health care, circles of hope, community support services, and emergency funds as its first draft of possible funding categories. “But after it was all said and done,” noted Meadows, “the community told us we should shift our priorities away from ‘band-aid’ solutions and focus on supporting systemic change.”

The group suggested including a funding category focused on community capacity building. “Now it’s the committee’s job to look at the feedback and figure out what that will all look like,” Meadows added. The committee intends to use the valuable feedback to develop appropriate terms of reference for all grant applications going forward.

The Board would like to thank everyone who participated and offered feedback. We gratefully acknowledge the City of Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant Community Centre for allowing us to host the event. We thank Hamid for providing last minute Farsi translation and are grateful to Hugo at Blenz Coffee on Davie and Richards for supplying complimentary refreshments. The Foundation especially thanks Pamela Schmidt for facilitating the workshop.

We at FOH also want to send a big hug to the LGBT+ refugees who spoke at the meeting. It was truly a community event that brought wisdom and expertise to an evolving discussion about what the LGBT+ refugee community needs.



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