During the past year, the Opportunity Knox volunteers have proven that they are good at two things: raising funds – and waiting. The Vankleek Hill-area group has been raising funds to bring a Syrian refugee family to this community and reached its $40,000 fundraising goal in just over a year. But the committee is learning that because the local group has identified specific refugees to bring here, the application process and approval time are lengthy.
Called a “named sponsorship”, this type of refugee opportunity selects specific individuals and applies for them to come to Canada. Opportunity Knox spokesperson Lisa Jennings said there is a huge waiting list of refugees currently waiting for clearance. A 28-year-old student refugee that Opportunity Knox hopes to welcome here has been a refugee in Syria for the past five years. The mechanical engineering student has been doing janitorial work and Jennings, who communicates with him by text, said he feels that is life is on hold.
Jennings would not reveal the names of the refugees that OK writes to regularly, as it could put them in danger.
The young student recently told Jennings that the cost of living and expenses were a challenge for him and that he was weary of waiting and ready to give up.
“He wrote back to me that he had not slept all night after I told him that there would possibly be more waiting. I am trying to be honest with them and share what I know. But I wrote him back,” she said. “Please don’t give up on Canada, was Jennings’ message to the student.
Opportunity Knox (OK) has also been working with a couple which recently had a baby (now just over a year old); they, too, are waiting for clearance to come to Canada.
OK has been fundraising since December of 2016 and has surpassed the $40,000 goal, which is enough to sustain the family for one year, thanks to the generosity of the community, Jennings said.
A worry for volunteers now is about losing momentum. That is part of the reason that the group has decided to apply for a Blended Visa Office Referral (BVOR), in order to welcome refugees here sooner. Having already raised $8,000 over and above the $40,000 needed for its original application, the BVOR initiative requires only $15,000 to be supplied by a local organization. OK would pay the first and last month’s rent for the family and the government assists with six months of rent for the family. It could be a family of up to four people, possibly from Syria, but not necessarily. Jennings said they could be matched with a family within one to four months. The Presbyterian Church of Canada is an official Sponsorship Agreement Holder with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. This enables Presbyterian congregations to sponsor refugees to resettle in Canada.
In the meantime, OK has more fundraising opportunities coming up. OK volunteers will be working at Beau’s Oktoberfest, selling drinks and snacks to raise the additional $7,000 needed for the BVOR refugee family contribution.
“When I talk to our family and to our student, I tell them not to give up, that we are still here and that we are still working, doing everything we can. The easy part has turned out to be the fundraising in our community. Right now, the hardest part is talking to those people and not being able to tell them when they will be able to come to Canada,” Jennings said.