Early morning skating

We went skating early this morning in Southampton. We rounded up several baskets full of donated ice skates and helmets, asked volunteers to come give us a hand, and hit the ice for an hour. Our newcomers did amazingly well!

Some of the kids, especially the younger ones, caught on surprisingly fast, while some of the older ones were reluctant to try. There was much laughter had by all.

We’re looking forward to having many more Canadian experiences together. The family seems to be adapting well and is very eager and willing to learn about life here in Saugeen Shores. Thanks to everyone for the help and support.

Here are some of the kids admiring the hockey players after our time was up.

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Welcome to Saugeen Shores!

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I am overjoyed to announce that our newcomers have arrived. They are now settled, safe and sound, in their new home. It’s been a whirlwind weekend for everyone, full of new words and names, struggled conversations that are a mix of English and Arabic, explanations about how things work, the triple cheek-kisses we’ve quickly learned how to do, many smiles and much laughter at our inability to communicate whenever Mariam the translator steps out of the room.

They are lovely people. The children can’t wait to start school as soon as possible, and the parents are eager to start English classes. They’ve had a long, hard journey, and several years of uncertainty since being forced to leave their home in Aleppo, Syria, so it is both exciting and exhausting to start yet again.

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Excited children exploring their new home

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We have insisted on their need for privacy, but don’t let that get in the way of welcoming them. If you see them, please say hello, tell them how happy you are to have them here, extend an offer of hospitality, a hug, handshake or kiss. They are eager to meet people, and were visibly amazed to learn that the community’s donations are the reason they’re here.

We all have a steep learning curve ahead. This is when the real work starts, and no doubt we’ll be calling on many of you who have offered assistance. Right now, the priority is to get the kids enrolled in school, catch up on doctor and dentist appointments, orient them in the town, start English classes, and start discussing employment options.

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A snuggle with the littlest family member

Thanks for all your support so far.

The view from mid-January

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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!

Preparing the House

The house is almost ready for the family to arrive. There are just a few outstanding items, so please let us know if you can help with any of the following: 2 bunk beds with mattresses, 1 extra single bed mattress, and a snow blower. Comment here or email saugeen.refugeefund@gmail.com.

We’re still waiting. As I wrote recently, the family has passed their interview and we’re now waiting for the results of the security screening and medical checks. Fingers crossed that they’ll be here soon in January!

 

A Holiday Update

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Welcoming Refugees in Times of Fear

This message was sent out by Mennonite Central Committee, the facilitating organization for our refugee fund. I found it to be inspiring and important, which is why I want to share it with you.

The vicious use of terrifying violence in Paris, and before that in Beirut, and before that in Yemen, and before that… all of this angers me. I really cannot understand how anyone can wreak this kind of horror on their sisters and brothers in the human community. It is abhorrent.

But it is not new.

It seems new in part because it offends our sense of fair play in war; that trained people in uniforms should be killing other trained people in uniforms. And even though we know the death of “innocents” in war already has a long and tragic history, we still recoil when fresh-faced western youth are massacred in a Paris theatre. From within us comes a deep need to respond. To pay back. To show we are not cowed. To eradicate the terror-maker. To make sure no more of “them” are allowed on to our soil.

“Them” in this case applies especially to refugees from Syria and Iraq. “Them” is that group that our government has invited in by the thousands. 25 thousand to be precise. And “they,” far more than us, are the terrorized.

They have stared into the horror of vicious violence and decided that as much as they love their homelands, they are willing to resettle in a strange new land.

Welcoming “them” may be one of our most powerful acts of resisting the evil of terrorism. And if the huge spike in numbers of people offering to help sponsor Syrian refugees since the Paris attacks is any indication, many Ontarians believe this to be true.

Is there a risk? Of course.

Would we be safer by closing the door to our free and democratic society? I do not think so.

As a faith-based organization Mennonite Central Committee is deeply committed to active, non-violent peacebuilding. That is why we are highly engaged with school and community leaders in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan in building religious tolerance and teaching peacebuilding skills. This alone will not end the current warring in the region. But it just may contribute to a more lasting peace in the future.

For us to model peacebuilding in Syria and then close our doors to the victims of terror there undermines the very gift we have to share. Though far from perfect, Canadian society practices an embrace of difference that is remarkable, and in the end is a strong weapon against fear and terror.

We face a long and uncertain road to peace. As I was almost finished writing this an Amish friend told me to end with these words from a great Teacher: “Repay evil with good.”

Wise and timely advice.