A group working on sponsoring Syrian refugees in Vankleek Hill is hosting a meeting for anyone interested in helping.
Committee members Lisa Jennings and Barbara Thriepland spoke with The Review about the effort, which is being supported by Knox Presbyterian Church. Jennings said she became interested in sponsoring a refugee as a member of a church committee. That committee represented 27 churches in the area, but she felt “we could do something here.” After asking around in church and in the community in general, she found a lot of interest in the idea.
Through an acquaintance who lived in Syria, she received several names of people hoping to come here as refugees. The committee met and decided to sponsor a young couple expecting a baby in April, as well as a young man.
The couple is living in a suburb of Beirut, and young man is in Beirut itself, living in a church in exchange for performing janitorial duties at an attached school. The former University of Aleppo engineering student, unable to work or study in Lebanon, has been in a kind of limbo for four years, after fleeing his home because his life was in danger, said Jennings.
The committee in Vankleek Hill is waiting for news from the government about the number of Syrian refugees who will be admitted in 2017. The process of preparing an application for each potential refugee is arduous. The people in Lebanon could face issues with proper documentation or language barriers. In Canada, Jennings and her committee must work out every detail of a settlement plan, and raise enough money to support the refugees for a year.
The amount of money required, $36,000, was set by the government, based on how many people will be coming. The settlement plan must include information about who will be responsible for helping the refugees settle here – who will help with doctor and dentist appointments, look for an apartment, help with shopping, and so on. Jennings said despite all the work it entails, she’s proud of the system Canada has. “We’re very fortunate to live where we live,” she said. “Our program is held in great esteem” in other countries.
Language is one concern. The young couple speak limited English and French, and finding ways to get services in Arabic will be important – but, Jennings said, so far the committee has not had difficulty finding local people, including a dentist and a doctor, who speak the language. While settling in a small community, instead of a city, may present some challenges, Jennings says she has faith in the community. “This is a welcoming community,” she said. “It’s very personal.”
Thriepland said she’s really looking forward to having them here. “We have so much in this country…so many god-given privileges, and it will just be wonderful to be able to share that with someone who has been through so much, and deserves so much better,” she said.
The meeting is set for February 1, at 7 p.m., at Knox Presbyterian Church in Archie Hardie Hall (29 High Street in Vankleek Hill). The organizers emphasized all are welcome – while it is being supported by the church, it is a community committee, not a church committee. You can attend if you want more information, if you want to help a little, or if you want to find out how to help in a bigger way.