Update on our 2nd family & a call for volunteer drivers

Teaching our newcomer family how to enjoy the winter weather

We are approaching the three-month mark since the Mukumba family arrived in Saugeen Shores. It’s been a busy few weeks, getting the kids settled in school and the parents attending ESL (English as a second language) classes in Owen Sound. Their English has improved drastically, and already we can have basic conversations that were previously impossible without the aid of Google translate or our amazing translators Amir and Des. It’s a good feeling for all!

Pleased with their new digs

The family has a rented home in Port Elgin, furnished entirely through donations from the community. Thanks to everyone who helped out with that, as well as painting, cleaning, and assembling furniture. Their home is centrally located, making it easy for them to walk wherever they need to go, although they’re not terribly impressed by the snow. They’re remarkably diligent about shovelling out the driveway, however, but bewildered as to how we all function in such bitter cold. (I must say, I wonder the same thing on occasion!)

sledding 2
Sledding at Eastwood Park, Dec. 2017

We spent a very fun afternoon sledding at Eastwood Park a few weeks ago. The kids were adorable; they couldn’t get enough of the fast runs and snow jumps at the bottom. They have also expressed amazement at the enormous lake, wondering at the fact that there are no crocodiles, or “Hakuna mamba!” as we’ve learned to say in Swahili.

The family is involved with a local church community, which has been a wonderful social outlet for them, and some of the kids are playing indoor soccer on a weekly basis.

If you would like to help, we desperately need volunteer drivers to take them to ESL. It’s been a struggle to fill all the gaps, and with the new season beginning, we’re losing some of our regular drivers. Whether it’s a single way between Port Elgin and Owen Sound, or both ways once a week, we can work with whatever availability you may have. Morning pickups are at 8:40 in Port Elgin, and class ends at 1 p.m. in Owen Sound, 5 days a week. Please let us know if you can help in any way, even if it’s just occasional.

I cannot stress enough how important this is. Without volunteer drivers, the two parents are unable to attend ESL classes in Owen Sound, and without English their chances for success at employment and education in Canada are greatly limited. So, please, if you’ve always wanted to get involved in volunteer work but haven’t known where to start, this is a place where your efforts will be greatly appreciated and put to good use.

We’d also like to take everyone skating and are looking for used skate donations — boy size 5, girl size 1, two girls size 7.5, and men’s 8.5. Please let us know if you have any. You can email saugeen.refugeefund@gmail.com or reach out on our Facebook page.


Come learn how rural Canadian communities have welcomed refugees – Dec. 3rd


Join us at the Port Elgin United Church on December 3rd at 7 PM for a presentation on refugee resettlement in rural Canada, titled “Welcoming Communities: The Resettlement and Integration of Syrian Refugees in Rural Canada.”

Earlier this spring, Stacey Haugen, a researcher from the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa, visited Port Elgin to interview Syrian refugees, private sponsors, service providers and other community members about their experiences with refugee resettlement. Port Elgin was one of four smaller communities that Stacey visited across the country. In total, she spoke with over 45 private sponsors and community members, and 15 Syrian refugees. At the presentation Stacey will present her research findings and discuss the benefits and challenges of refugee resettlement in rural areas.

About Stacey:

Stacey Haugen is a Research Award Recipient at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Ottawa. During her award, Stacey has been studying the resettlement and integration of Syrian refugees in rural Canada. Prior to her work at IDRC, Stacey worked in rural development with the Alberta Centre for Sustainable Rural Communities in Camrose, Alberta.​She has an undergraduate degree in political studies from the University of Alberta, and a Master of Arts degree in Global Governance from the University of Waterloo.

The event is free. We hope to see you there!

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)

Help with Housing

Děti ze školy
Refugee camp in Zambia, where our next family used to live

We have received notice that our next newcomer family will make the trip from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, to Saugeen Shores within 4 to 8 weeks, but no actual date has been set. Because of the way the government process works, housing is an extremely complicated process.

First, we’re not allowed to rent a house more than one month in advance, since many families can be delayed.

Second, we will have 10 days’ notice at most before the family arrives at the Toronto airport, which means we’ll be scrambling to secure housing on time. (We had only three days’ warning before our first newcomer family came in 2015.)

Finally, it’s summer in Saugeen Shores – and we all know what that means for trying to find an affordable rental at the last minute.

What Mennonite Central Committee recommends is trying to find a temporary housing solution, where the family has a place to go and settle for a few weeks while we try to find the best possible permanent location.

So I’m putting this question out to the community: Do you know of any possible temporary housing solutions where a family of six could live for a few weeks? It can be simple and small – a basement apartment, a granny suite, a cottage, etc. It can be in either Port Elgin or Southampton.

(Note: It may not even be used, depending on what luck we have finding a permanent place for them.)

Please let me know if you have any thoughts or offers to make. By September, it will be much easier to find somewhere for them to live. You can call (519) 832-4525 or send an email: saugeen.refugeefund[at]gmail.com. You can also reach me (Katherine) on Facebook.

Once we know what the housing situation is, and whether or not the family will have a furnished rental, we will notify the community about the need for furniture and other household donations. We WILL need clothing for the family.

Thank you!

Katherine Martinko, communications coordinator for SSRF

2nd family coming soon!

The Saugeen Shores Refugee Fund is thrilled to announce that we’ve been matched with a second family for resettlement! Official paperwork has been signed, but we do not yet know a precise arrival date. It will be sometime within the next 1 to 4 months.

Interestingly, this new family comes from Central Africa, with some members born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and others in Zambia. There are two parents and four school-aged children. A fifth young child is missing, but if found, he will join the family in Canada.

An MCC food distribution, with local partner ECS-SUDRA, in Unity State, South Sudan where the United Nations has declared a famine.

This sponsorship will take us in a completely new direction. It’s simultaneously terrifying and thrilling as we try to build a support network for these strangers from a part of the world that most of us know very little about. Central Africa has faced tremendous violence, and now widespread famine, but its plight is much less publicized than Syria’s conflict.

From Mennonite Central Committee:

“For more than two decades, the DRC has struggled with conflict in eastern provinces. As of Nov 2014, an estimated 2.6 million Congolese were internally displaced and nearly 500,000 had fled into neighbouring countries. Non-state armed groups and elements of the Congolese army (FARDC) threaten civilians.”

Our sponsorship group will be learning as much as we can about the region and its culture(s) over the next few weeks, and we hope to organize a community information night in the near future to help prepare Saugeen Shores for these newcomers. We’ll keep you posted.

If you want to help: We are beginning to think about housing, which will be a challenge during the summer months. (The family will almost certainly be here by mid-September.) We cannot rent more than a month in advance. If you have any solid leads for a 3-bedroom year-round rental in Port Elgin or Southampton, please get in touch. Send an email to knmartinko[at]gmail.com.

If you know of anyone who speaks Swahili, please send them our way! We’ve been very fortunate to find one translator, but the more we can find, the easier it will be for everyone.

Thank you, Saugeen Shores, for making this possible with your incredible financial donations and ongoing social support.

We did it! Sponsorship #1 is done.

Yesterday (January 30) marked the one-year anniversary since our Syrian family arrived in Saugeen Shores. Now the Saugeen Shores Refugee Fund is no longer legally tied to the Al Ibrahim family in any way and they are officially on their own, permanent residents and, hopefully, eventual citizens of Canada. It’s thanks to you, the members of this community, that they have a safe new place to call home.

Two of the littlest girls entertaining my mother Elizabeth with English nursery rhymes they’ve learned at school

We continue to await matching with a second family profile and do not know how long that will take. Last we heard, we were 16th in line with Mennonite Central Committee, but the government stated that, on January 30th, it would resume matching sponsorship groups with refugees that fall into our particular category (known as the Blended Office Visa Referral, or BVOR, program, where sponsorship is shared between group and government). Matches will be made until the annual quota of 1,500 people is reached, and we have every reason to expect to be part of that number.

Our efforts to resettle refugees are more important than ever. With the turmoil in the United States and that hatred spilling over into Canada, too, everything we do here takes on tremendous value and symbolic importance. We must show our support for refugees and loving acceptance of immigrants from all parts of the world, regardless of religion. We must affirm our commitment to helping fellow humans in great need and to integrating them warmly into a secure future.

Mennonite Central Committee, the organization through which we’ve worked to resettle the Al Ibrahim family, sent out a message yesterday in the wake of Sunday’s shooting at a Quebec City mosque:

“We lament the senseless shooting at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec. Our thoughts are with the families of those killed and we pray for healing for those injured. During these times we hope and pray that we can come together as communities to build peace.

“Through our Refugee Sponsorship Program, we have helped to welcome many Muslim people to Ontario and we are glad that they are here to help make our communities stronger and vibrant places. We know that diversity contributes to healthy communities.”

Saugeen Shores has done a phenomenal job of this so far. I get emotional just thinking of the past 15 months of generosity, support, and love that’s poured out of our community. Our Syrian family feels happy, at home, and settled. They are thriving, will soon be moving into a home of their own, are enjoying full-time employment and learning English quickly. Best of all, they feel they belong here. When asked if they would consider buying a house in Owen Sound, they were adamantly opposed because they like Port Elgin so much.

Ghaydaa is quite possibly the best cook in Saugeen Shores… Here she’s making pita from scratch in the summer, not something she does on a regular basis (Photo: Elizabeth Davaze)

Thank you for all you’ve done this year, and for your ongoing support for refugee resettlement. Together, in our small towns of Port Elgin and Southampton, we have – and will continue to – make a real difference in the world.

– Katherine Martinko, SSRF coordinator

Come see a powerful documentary about Syrian uprising


A powerful new documentary about the early days of the uprising in Syria will be shown at the Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre, in Southampton, on Saturday Dec. 10, beginning at 7 p.m. The event is in some ways a tribute to the community’s role in sponsoring Syrian refugees. The Saugeen Shores Refugee Group is hosting the event, with support from Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Global Affairs Canada.

The film, Little Gandhi, is an award-winning look at the role of Syrian peace activist Ghiyath Matar, who became an iconic figure in Syria’s freedom movement for giving flowers and water to troops sent to break up non-violent protests in the town of Daraya, in the early days of the uprising. Matar died in the custody of Syrian security forces in 2011.

The 2015 film was funded by IDRC’s Governance and Justice unit as part of a project on transitional justice with the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

The film’s director, Sam Kadi, led a production team that took considerable risks to shoot a good part of the film in Syria. Many interviews were set in Daraya, which was still totally under siege by government forces at the time. Local activists were given a crash course in filmmaking via Skype and getting the footage back to the production team took months because of the difficulty in getting it out of the war zone.

It has been nearly one year since the town of Saugeen Shores opened its arms to the Alibrahim family. This 14-member Syrian family escaped the destruction of Aleppo and fled to Lebanon several years before making its way to Canada. Thanks to incredibly generous financial donations and countless hours of hard work by volunteers within the community, the family has settled in well, learning English quickly and figuring out how to navigate a culture that is drastically different from their own.

Said Katherine Martinko, coordinator of the Saugeen Shores Refugee Group:

“Looking at our happily settled newcomers, it can be difficult to remind ourselves that the war in Syria is ongoing. There are still bombs and gunfire in the streets. People, including children, continue to die, whether it’s from the fighting, lack of access to medical care, or not enough food.

“As Canadians and outsiders, living so far from the conflict zone, the war is difficult to comprehend; however, striving for a better understanding of it will ultimately make us better hosts to our own newcomers — those already here, and those yet to come — as well as clarify cross-cultural misunderstandings and, ideally, fill us with greater compassion toward those in great need.”

Immediately after the Dec. 10 screening at the museum, audience members will have the opportunity to take part in a panel discussion involving the film’s director (who will join by Skype) as well as Roula El-Rifai from the IDRC and Marie-Therese Helal from Global Affairs Canada.

The film was recognized by the European Independent Film Festival as the Best Feature Documentary in Arab Filmmaking and has been screened around the world. It is now touring major Canadian centres. But as a nod to the role that small communities like Saugeen Shores played in sponsoring Syrian refugees, a special screening is being mounted here. A second screening in the area will take place on the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 11, beginning at 1 p.m. at the Huron County Museum, in Goderich, hosted by Welcome Project Syria.

Admission to both screenings is free, but space is limited, so tickets must be reserved online. Please book through Eventbrite at this link: