Our community comes together to welcome Syrian refugees

Syrian refugee kids awaiting resettlement at a camp in Jordan
Syrian refugee children awaiting resettlement at a camp in Jordan

by Chandler Swain

Since late summer, as we became more aware of the terrible situation relentlessly unfolding in Syria, several groups in our community have formed to help the huge number of refugees fleeing war in that country.

Neighbours were talking to neighbours, church congregations were working with their refugee support programs, and individuals wanted to help if they could.

For our community to work more effectively, an umbrella group was formed with the help of Arnie Francis and Ingrid Kadoke: the Syrian Refugee Committee of Mississippi Mills (SRCMM). The SRCMM helps keep everyone up to date on the process, complete with a Facebook page to organize the flow of information. It was agreed that up to five refugee families could be sponsored in Mississippi Mills.

Initial meetings brought many residents together, together with people experienced in bringing refugees to Canada, to explore how to proceed. The task is complex, but fortunately these experienced people  are there to help us through the myriad issues that need addressing, such as fund-raising, paperwork, and getting the entire community on board.

There are now four groups well on the way to helping Syrian families come to Almonte:

  • A secular group is working through the Presbyterian Church’s Sponsorship Agreement Holder and is about to find out which family they will be supporting.It’s called ABC- Welcome (the members are from Almonte, Blakeney and Clayton). Most of the funding required to sponsor a family for a year has been committed.
  • A group of neighbours and friends in Almonte pulled together as Team Almonte and, in record time, raised the needed funds (approximately $1,500 each, to reach nearly $30,000, and counting). This group is working with Jewish Immigration Services in Ottawa to get their family to Almonte.
  • Holy Name of Mary has a group that has a family identified, application filed, and funds raised, and is now well on the way to preparing for them to get to Almonte.
  • A diverse group from Almonte, including members of St Paul’s Anglican Church and the Almonte United Church, are working jointly to form an effective group to sponsor a Syrian refugee family.

So amazingly, our little town is currently expecting four Syrian families to come here. Obviously, having the new federal government fast-tracking the process will be extremely helpful. The Syrian families we are hoping to help have been in refugee camps for way too long.

Now the local teams are turning to the community at large for help. Here is a wish-list of things needed to make our welcome of these traumatized people effective.

The Wish List

Housing
The local sponsoring group is responsible for the refugee family’s welfare for a year. The housing plan generally means that a local family “adopts” the refugee family in their home for a few weeks to help them settle. After that, the refugee family is moved to their own accommodation.

It is possible, even desirable, that within a short time the refugee family find family or friends in another Canadian town or city and seeks to move on. So finding housing that may be short-term or may be longer term for at least a year is a challenge.

We are reaching out to the community to let us know if there are at least 2 bedroom apartments or houses or parts of houses (e.g. “granny flats”) that might be made available for these families.

Besides housing, community support and contributions are needed for:

Translation help
Already the owners of Almonte Pizza and Milano’s, and Dr. Naji Louis, are on board to help as they are Arabic speakers. However, more translators would be very helpful! Ideas are welcome.

Potential childcare
Including help acclimatizing to schools.

Housewares and furniture

Storage
We are also looking for storage for housewares and furniture: got a dry clean space to handle some of these things?

Employment opportunities

Donations of money
(SRCMM will be setting up an account for general disbursement applications) and the churches which are sponsorship agreement holders can provide receipts for charitable donations.

Assistance with driving and helping to welcome these families into our community
Winter can be isolating even for Canadians used to the weather. We will have to make sure these folks can deal with all the challenges of winter in the Ottawa Valley!

If you are able to help, this is the time to step forward and let the SRCMM know.

If high school students want to fulfill volunteer hours by helping out before and after our families arrive have them contact us. Please send an email to Arnie (arnies_got_mail@yahoo.com) letting him know in what way you would like to help.

Your offer will be directed to one or more of the constituent groups.

In addition, please join the SRCMM’s Facebook Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/649950821812626/?pnref=story).

Thanks for being a part of this wonderful community story!