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LivingThe change-up… not just for pitchers!  - an SRCMM Update

The change-up… not just for pitchers!  – an SRCMM Update

In September 2015 when the “Syrian Refugee Committee of Mississippi Mills” was formed in our living room, most of us didn’t know exactly what we were getting ourselves into! But we all believed that the anguish of refugees was real and urgent and, as a community, we had to do something!

  • Not one, but four diverse groups of sponsors arose from our community representing a strong cross-section of Mississippi Mills: Holy Name of Mary Group, Almonte-Blakeney-Clayton (ABC) Welcome Group, Team Almonte and St. Paul’s Anglican & Almonte United Church (SPAUC) Group.
  • We all started fundraising, and our community showed it’s generosity in so many ways. We found about $200,000 in funds and at least one-tenth again in “in-kind” donations. Phenomenal!
  • Groups focussed on paperwork – and in January the Jarouses arrived and in February the Mustafas arrived. Two of the SRCMM’s groups – through no fault of theirs – had delays, re-strategies and re-starts. We firmly hope that they will see their sponsored families arrive by late fall 2016.

Today the Syrian Civil War and it’s continued aftermath of suffering, have all but faded from media attention, with the USA Presidential race and Brexit seeming to overshadow the many, deeply mournful happenings that persist in the world today. According to Oxfam (http://oxfam.ca/syriacrisis), for instance,

  • More than 220,000 people have lost their lives as a result of the Syrian conflict.
  • Over six million people have fled their homes and over four million Syrian refugees are living in neighbouring countries including Lebanon and Jordan.
  • In Syria alone more than 12.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance such as water, food, and shelter.
  • Women have been particularly affected by the violence in Syria and when they flee to neighbouring countries. Forced and child marriage, rape, and sexual harassment are common occurrences. Women and girls rarely report such incidents and so they occur with impunity.
  • Refugees are now citing a deteriorating economy and health system as reasons for flight, alongside the violence that continues to escalate across northern Syria and its western border. The steady arrival of families displaced by the conflict in neighboring countries is putting extreme pressure on local infrastructure and economies.

Lest we feel de-moralized, I am reminded about the recent open letter by jazz giants Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, who encourage us to work towards a more artful, peaceful world (http://www.lionsroar.com/to-the-next-generation-of-artists/). They write: “First, Awaken to Your Humanity: We are not alone. We do not exist alone and we cannot create alone. What this world needs is a humanistic awakening of the desire to raise one’s life condition to a place where our actions are rooted in altruism and compassion.” While the call is to a primarily artistic audience, it seems to be germane for all of us who serve community.

Our children and their teachers seem to remind us periodically of the importance of our collective humanity. On May 27,2016 I was ever-so privileged, on behalf of the SRCMM, to spend some time answering discerning questions and humbly receiving a signed card and a cheque from the intermediate school students at Almonte and District High School (ADHS). Both the Intermediate Student Council (with teacher Ms. Leigh O’Brien-Latham) and Ms. Ashleigh Snowdon’s intermediate grade students did a variety of fundraising activities to raise $551.35 for our Syrian families. I was happy and proud to spend a moment with such sparkling, young examples of community. Thank you for keeping our collective humanity awakened!

ADHS Cheque Presentn

On Monday June 13th I chaired my last meeting of the SRCMM. It was not an ordinary meeting, but a “Round Table” of some of our neighbouring sponsorship groups, including representatives from St. John the Baptist Church Group (Perth), The CARR (Perth) and the Project Arnprior Welcome Sponsorship Committee. All in all, our groups together represented five newcomer Syrian families, with five more to come. While the Carleton Place Refugee Committee and the Renfrew Refugee Committee representatives were unable to attend, the rest of us shared some heartwarming experiences, exchanged shared challenges, tapped collective knowledge and gleaned ideas for going forward.  Like a baseball pitcher, the SRCMM has been introducing the change-up to its game. As we signalled in the May update the SRCMM has already made some important changes. First of all, our name has changed to reflect the capacity and learning that the sponsorship and resettlement experience has imbued in us, beyond a “refugee committee”. We are now the Sponsorship and Resettlement Council of Mississippi Mills. While that’s still “SRCMM”, the second change is in our composition: no longer a Committee, the name “Council” emphasises the over-arching importance of our four sponsorship groups, whose representatives make up the four-person Council. These are the key people who communicate, consult and keep each other enthused and positive. Ingrid and I will continue to help with coordination and administration, as will others, at the discretion of the members, but the S &R Council itself will set its own discussion agenda, priorities and pace going forward under rotating chairpersonship.

On a personal note, Ingrid and I thank you for your support and encouragement over these months as the SRCMM took form and substance. To the many who offered to volunteer and didn’t get asked, please don’t be disappointed! Believe me when I say you did more by the act of offering your help than you could possible imagine! You may still be called upon. We ask you to continue to be generous in words and spirit to those who work so diligently in service to our community and the ideal of a more inclusive and just world.

Arnie Francis

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