On a recent snowy Saturday, Jim Estill went knocking on his neighbours’ doors, offering to shovel snow from walkways and driveways for cash.
Behind him stood a handful of Syrian refugees, newly arrived to the Canadian city of Guelph, in south-western Ontario. Estill, the CEO of multimillion-dollar appliance company Danby, was acting as the group’s salesman, and helped the refugees land 50 snow-clearing jobs.
It was a glimpse into the deep relationship that has been forged since the mild-mannered executive decided just over a year ago to spend C$1.5m to bring 200 Syrian refugees to Canada.
In the summer of 2015, moved by the headlines emerging from what he called one of the “the greatest humanitarian crises of our lifetime”, Estill began working out how many families he could help under Canada’s private sponsorship programme, which was launched 35 years ago after the Vietnam War and has brought more than 275,000 refugees to Canada. It allows private citizens to welcome and settle refugees as long as they commit to covering the expenses for the first year or so and helping the newcomers ease into their new lives.