2nd family has arrived!!!

Two parents, four kids, and several very excited and emotional volunteers

Our second newcomer family has arrived in Saugeen Shores! They had a long, exhausting journey from Tanzania to South Africa, and then all the way to Toronto, but they showed up in the airport wearing big smiles and their Sunday best. The four children were polite and patient during the long drive home. Upon arriving in Port Elgin, we drove past their rental house (which they’ll move into on November 1st) and they clapped excitedly. They were also thrilled to see the school.

airport pickup
Meeting the family for the first time at the airport

For now, they will stay in temporary accommodations and begin the long process of integrating into a foreign community and learning English. They speak only a few basic words, no French, only Swahili.

Two of the four children, arriving in Port Elgin

What we need help with:

Many people have kindly expressed a desire to donate household goods and clothing to the family. Here is a list of specific items we need at this time. If you would like to help out with one or more of these items, please notify us so it can be removed from the list and we do not receive duplicates. Contact info is at bottom of post.

– Bathroom supply kit (toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet paper, soap, shampoo, deodorant, sanitary pads, dental floss, washcloth, etc.)
– First aid kit
– Minor medications kit (Tylenol, Gravol, etc.)
– Grocery carrier or wagon (for making trips on foot to Walmart)
– Toys for kids (baseball gloves, soccer ball, Frisbee, colouring books and craft supplies)
– Clothing & footwear (running shoes and winter boots) for specific ages: 12-year-old girl, 9-yr-old boy, 7-yr-old girl, 4-yr-old boy, 2 parents (both are slight and small). At this point, they need everything — pants, skirts, shirts, undershirts, etc.

Looking for volunteer drivers:

Soon we hope to get the parents enrolled in English classes at the ESL school in Owen Sound. Classes run from 9 AM till 2 PM, Mon-Fri. We are looking for volunteer drivers who can take them either one way, one or more days per week, or who can drive both directions on a particular day. We are happy to work with whatever people’s schedules are.

Note: In order to do this, however, you will need to complete a vulnerable sector background check, as is required of anyone working with refugees under Canadian law.

Please let us know what you can provide! And thank you to the entire community for your ongoing support of this exciting resettlement effort.

You can reach on Facebook, via email at saugeen.refugeefund@gmail.com or call/text Katherine at (519) 389-8672.

The excited and hardworking SSRF committee (L-R): Katherine Martinko, Tara Somerville, Kim Blackmore, Mariam Joudeh, Betsy Palko (missing from photo: Andy Evans and Greg Primeau)

Come to an Authentic Syrian Meal


PLEASE NOTE: THE DINNER HAS BEEN SOLD OUT! No more tickets are available at this point.

Ghaydaa Kassem Aboud and her husband Saad Alibrahim are planning to host a community dinner with traditional Syrian cuisine. Ghaydaa hopes to use the proceeds from the dinner to launch a little company selling prepared food, as many people have expressed interest in her cooking. Tickets are limited, so buy now!

When: Sunday, November 13 at 6 pm,
Where: Port Elgin United Church, 840 Bruce Street

Tickets now available at Cathy’s Flowers and Port Elgin United Church office (Mon, Tues, Wed 9-12, Thurs & Friday 9-4. Correct cash only please)

Featuring soup, salad, babbaganoush, stuffed grape leaves, Basmati rice with peas and minced beef, Kibbeh, basbousa and Syrian baklava with walnuts, tea and coffee

$30 adults, $15 Youth 6-13, Free 5 and under

The view from mid-January


Many people have been asking about the family’s arrival. The short answer is, “I don’t know when they’re coming!” We’re still waiting, but the good news is that we’ve been given their names, which is usually a sign that they are close to travelling.

The house has been fully furnished and is awaiting their arrival. There is nothing else we need, thanks to the outpouring of generous donations from members of this community. We’ve also received mountains of clothes, thanks to the Pass It On Café at the Missionary Church, which will be sorted shortly. Some items will be set aside for the family, while the rest will go into the Café for the family to choose, based on size and style preferences. The church has asked that no more items be donated.

We’ve learned that the family has an additional baby, so now there are 12 children with their 2 parents. The school-aged children will attend either Saugeen Central or St. Joseph’s school in Port Elgin; we leave the decision up to the parents.

Once the family gets here, no doubt there will be a flurry of excitement, but it’s important to give them the space and privacy that they need to adjust to a radically new life. I’ve been urged by Mennonite Central Committee to limit the number of people with whom they have contact, particularly in the initial weeks, in order not to overwhelm them and to help build trusting relationships with the core group members. We have no idea what they’ve been through prior to arriving, which is why it’s important to ease them into this new life.

We ask the community to respect that time and not show up excitedly to welcome the newcomers. There will be plenty of time to do so!

In the meantime, we continue to think about the future. We have enough funds to sponsor and resettle a second family, once the first has been settled. The more money we raise, the more newcomers we can bring, so if you are part of an organization that would like to hold a fundraiser on our behalf, please feel free to do so. We hope to organize some additional fundraisers in the near future. You can donate online here.

To all the many people who have inquired about volunteering:

At this point, we’re all just waiting! As tasks become apparent, after the family’s arrival, we will certainly reach out to the public for broader support. Also, we will need to form a second core group to spearhead the sponsorship of the second family, so let me know if you’re interested in becoming more committed to the cause.

Thank you, and stay tuned for updates!

A Holiday Update


Back when we started this refugee sponsorship process, I had hoped so much that the family would be here in time for Christmas. Unfortunately those hopes have been dashed, and we know for certain that the family won’t be here before the end of 2015.

The good news, though, is that the family have passed their interview. We’ve learned that they have a new baby, born this past October, so now there will be 12 children (spanning 2 months to 18 years) coming with their 2 parents. Now we’re just waiting for the results of the security screenings and physical examinations.

The house is nearly ready for them. Mariam and her husband have been working very hard to organize the renovations and manage all the furniture donations we’ve received. Thank you to the many, many people who stepped forward to offer items for the home. We’ve been offered far more than we actually need, and urge people to consider donating to other refugee sponsorship groups in the region that may not have been so lucky with donations.

If you have clothing, shoes, or boots to donate, please take them to the Pass It On Café, run by the Missionary Church on Green Street in Port Elgin, open Sun-Thurs, 9-12. The Pass It On Café is a thrift store of sorts where everything is free. The staff have kindly offered to collect and sort donations on our behalf, and the family will go there to select clothing once they arrive. It also makes any extra donations available to the public and other families in need.

I’ve received several requests from people wanting to get involved with volunteering. At this point, we’re not able to accommodate everyone’s desire to be part of the process. Under Canadian law, the family members are considered ‘vulnerable people,’ which means that anyone who has contact with them initially must have background checks conducted by a third-party organization.

I’ve also been advised by Mennonite Central Committee to limit the number of people interacting with the family for the first while, in order to build better, more trusting relationships. I’m sorry to disappoint any prospective volunteers, but please remember that we plan to bring a second family and will need help for that. Do let us know, however, if you have a highly specialized skill that you think could be of service.

You can help by helping us fundraise!!! There have been some wonderful donations made by groups in the community who have organized their own fundraisers on our behalf. That’s a great way to stay involved and help the process along – because, without the money, it’s impossible to do anything. So far we have enough money for a second family later in 2016, but would love to bring a third one, too.

If you feel so inclined, please make a donation online and urge your family and friends to do so, as well: https://donate.mcccanada.ca/registry/saugeen-shores-refugee-fund

Merry Christmas to all!

Waiting, waiting, waiting…

Waiting is hard! It’s been over a month since our group was tentatively matched with a family profile, and still we are waiting, waiting, waiting…

All we know is that the family is currently undergoing security screenings and interviews with Canadian visa officers in the refugee camp near Beirut where they’re staying. Every day I check my email with great hope that Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has received word and knows when they’re coming. And every day, there’s no information yet.

In the meantime we are getting ready for their arrival. The biggest news is that an incredibly generous couple, Mariam and Samir, have purchased a house for the family to live in. This takes a tremendous weight off my shoulders, as I was searching for a house suitable for 13 people without evening knowing their arrival date – not an appealing prospect for many landlords. Now we’ll have landlords who are deeply dedicated to the cause.

new house

The 4-bedroom house is located in Port Elgin with a large fenced backyard. It’s within easy walking distance of the high school, with a school bus direct to Saugeen Central school, close to the rail trail and playground, and situated in a quiet neighbourhood. The family will be very comfortable there.

Thank you to the countless people who have offered donations, both in the form of money and items. In fact, we’ve received offers of far more items than we can possibly accept. Elizabeth and I are in the process of putting together a list of what we need and who’s offered it. We are striving to plan the ideal furniture layout to accommodate so many people, and, in the interest of conserving space, must be careful about what we accept. If you’ve offered something we need, you will hear from us soon.

Thank you, too, for the surplus of clothing. We don’t need any more for now, but will let the public know when we do via this website and our Facebook page.

In light of the many comments and requests I receive from people wanting to get involved, there really isn’t a whole lot to do right now. I know, it’s hard – I find it extremely frustrating at times – but it goes along with the refugee sponsorship process.

Once the family arrives, however, there will be more to do. I hope the community of Saugeen Shores will open its arms to this family, invite their children over to play, take the parents out to meet people, bring them food, offer day trips, gift certificates, homework help, rides, extracurricular activities, cups of tea shared around kitchen tables. That is the kind of support that will ensure this family’s full integration into our community and the sense of belonging that they’ve been seeking for possibly many years.

The process has just begun. We hope to bring a second family later in 2016, at which point we’ll do this all over again. We also fully intend to continue fundraising and sponsoring refugees for as long as the organization has money, so keep making financial donations and encouraging your friends and family to do so as well.

Clearly this is something that resonates deeply with the residents of Saugeen Shores, who have proven to be generous and compassionate thus far. This town makes me fiercely proud! Together we’ve done something that started as only a small dream.






A Response to the Paris & Beirut Attacks

Statement in response to attacks in Paris and Beirut from the Canadian Council for Refugees:

The CCR joins in the global outrage at the recent mass murders in Paris and Beirut. The loss of life and shattering of our sense of security connects us to the daily death and destruction in Syria and in other countries at war. We hope that Canadians will remember that Syrian refugees are victims of this violence and will redouble their commitment to welcome them in Canada.

We are dismayed by some public statements unfairly associating refugees with security risks. We would like to point out the following:

– Refugees are people who are fleeing violence and are looking for security. They are not a threat to security.

– Refugees who come to Canada are subjected to rigorous security screening, whether they are selected abroad for resettlement or they make a refugee claim in Canada. The Canadian government has a well-developed and sophisticated system for doing security checks, through Canada Border Services Agency and CSIS. They review personal information of the applicants and assess them according to certain factors that might point to a possible risk. If applicants fit a profile of concern, they are subjected to more detailed screening, including if necessary an interview with a CSIS agent. Processing of such applicants is delayed while the security check is conducted.

– Everyone considered for resettlement must be referred by either the UNHCR or by private sponsors in Canada. It is not possible for someone to propose themselves.

– The UNHCR refers for resettlement only a tiny portion of registered refugees. They refer refugees who are particularly vulnerable (e.g. a widow with several young children, LGBT refugees who at risk in their place of temporary refuge, or someone who has health issues).

– Private sponsors name people that they know, often family members of  people in Canada.

– The events of last week do not require any change in Canada’s approach to Syrian refugees, since ensuring a thorough security check was always a mandatory part of the plan. The Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship has consistently said that processing will be done as fast as possible, but without compromising necessary security checks.

– Every day thousands of people enter Canada other than as refugees. It is unfair that refugees are singled out for suspicion. People planning to come to Canada to commit crimes would be unlikely to try to come as refugees since processing is often difficult and they would be subjected to security screenings. It appears that most of those committing the attacks in Paris were French or Belgian citizens: European citizens can easily enter Canada without any security screening.

– The individuals who have committed recent terrorist attacks in Canada have been born in this country.

Every day Syrian refugee children in the Middle East go hungry. Winter is coming and their situation will grow worse. Syrian refugees have more to be fearful of than Canadians do.

Opening our doors to refugees is one of the strongest ways possible to reject the violence and the incitement to hatred and division represented by the attacks.


We’re starting to collect winter clothes!

We’ve started to collect winter clothes for the family, so that we’ll be ready as soon as they arrive. Here is an updated list of the items we are still collecting. Please note that we are accepting winter outerwear only at this time, i.e. warm coats, snowpants, hats, mitts, and boots.

16 yr old male
14 yr old male
10 yr old female
6 yr old male
5 yr old female (we already have boots)
5 yr old male

Deliver in person to the Dr. Earl Health Clinic, located beside the movie theatre in Port Elgin.

Shortly, we will notify the public about furniture needed for the family’s home. If you have any mattresses or bunk beds, please keep us in mind, although we do not yet have a place to store them.

Thank you!