Local Refugee Sponsorship Committee Waiting for Arrival of Syrian Family

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A Refugee Sponsorship Committee, led by Willowgrove United Church, and encompassing several United Churches within the geographic boundaries of Algoma Presbytery, is anxiously awaiting the arrival of a Syrian family to their new home in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Jeri Pearce, Willowgrove United Church congregant, and active member of the Refugee Sponsorship Committee (RSC) opened the house in the Sault’s east end that is all ready for the Syrian family to move into, for Saultonline to take a peek. And what a tremendous job the RSC has done!

20160621_131334It is a remarkable, inviting, warm and welcoming home indeed for the Syrian family of 4, who will likely find the peace and tranquility found within the walls, in sharp contrast to their current digs. A noisy and tense tent city in Lebanon. The present problem is that the Syrian family is continuing to wait and wait and wait some more to leave Lebanon.

“We just want them here.” said Jeri Pearce.  “We want to get them out of the Refugee Camp in Lebanon. Everything has been approved. We’ve known since early April that our family has been approved to come to Canada. The hold-up is the exit Visa’s.” she said.

20160621_132309‘With a long history of sectarian conflict, Lebanon’s situation has becoming increasingly more volatile as the Syrian civil war continues. Not only have over a million refugees crossed the 360 kilometre-long Syrian-Lebanon border, but the conflict has also spilled over – from street fighting in Tripoli to bombings in Beruit.’ ( http://syrianrefugees.eu/)

“We know that our family is a mom and dad, an 8 year old boy, and a 5 month old baby girl” shared Pearce. “The baby was born in the Refugee Camp in Lebanon.”  Upon the mention of the baby girl, Jeri’s eyes fill with tears.

“Look at this” said Jeri, pointing out the Arabic translations on a Map of The Sault. “One of our committee members has gone through the house and marked everything in their language.”

20160621_131419In fact, much of the contents of the house, has been scribed into Arabic. The RSC has already lined up translators who will work with the family and committee to ensure language barriers do not encumber a successful settlement in the Sault.

20160621_131631“There has been an outpouring of support from the community for our family. The YMCA has donated one year memberships to the family. A local bicycle shop is donating bikes for them. It’s truly amazing.”

Willowgrove United Church (Tilley Road) began the process several months ago as the sponsoring congregation, and with the support of United Churches in Algoma Presbytery, an application to bring a Syrian refugee family to Sault Ste. Marie was made. There are 40 members on the RSC team, and Jeri explained that the Committee is divided into several components to ensure a successful transition for the family.

20160621_132506The United Church of Canada is a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH). Working through the General Council office in Toronto, Ontario, The United Church of Canada helps to navigate the complicated pathway for sponsoring refugees. The RSC has also been getting advice through The Sault Community Career Centre, specifically, Newcomers Settlement Services. Willowgrove United Church members, Harold and Shirley McCarthy are the Chair(s) of the RSC.

20160621_131444“The owner of the home offered this house to us when he learned that we were trying to bring a family to Canada from Syria. He was a Christian missionary overseas for several years, and owns a local construction company. He did all of the painting and renovations. We do pay the rent here, which is $1200.00 / month. We’ve been paying the rent on this home since May 1st.” shared Pearce. “He even put in a brand new washer and dryer.”

“We’re waiting at this point for the government of Lebanon to issue exit visas.”

“We’ve been bugging our local MP’s  office (Terry Sheehan) to ask them what the hold -up is. I’ve reached out to the Lebanese Embassy in Canada to find out what is taking so long, but they said they can’t help us. I’ve called the office of the Conservative critic for Refugees to see if she can find out what is taking so long.” (Michelle Rempel, MP Calgary Nose Hill, Official Opposition Critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.)

Saultonline reached out to MP Terry Sheehan who shared,  “While I can’t comment on specific cases, members of the Sault Ste. Marie community have displayed great passion and enthusiasm to support the resettlement of Syrian Refugees through their private donations and fund raising.

That said, in addition to processing large numbers of applications that were submitted (approximately 12,000) there are other challenges to bringing these new arrivals to Canada sooner that are not completely within Government of Canada control.

I appreciate the patience of everyone in Sault Ste. Marie as my office continues to explore all options to get these families here sooner.” – Terry Sheehan, MP Sault Ste. Marie.

“We’re waiting for a family that we know wants to come here. We already know we have a family. The house is ready. We’re ready, and every day that goes by, all I can see when I try to close my eyes to go to sleep at night is the wee baby; A young boy of 8 years and a mom and dad  who are all  living in unsafe and potentially violent conditions. What is taking so long?” she said. “The baby was born in the refugee camp.” Jeri’s voice breaks with emotion as she continues the tour.

“I knew that when we put this house together, it had to be a place that I would want to live in.” From handmade quilts, to baby clothes, hygiene supplies, food and beyond, the three bedroom home is complete with a spacious yard. Jeri planted flowers outside and waters them on a regular basis.

New mattresses are on the beds, and the baby’s room has been equipped with everything a young family could possibly need. “This is my favourite room.” said Pearce as we stood in the baby’s room.

“Spadoni’s Furniture gave us a really good deal on the kitchen table and chairs and the brand new mattresses.”

“We’ve introduced ourselves to the neighbours so that they know a refugee family will be coming.”

“We plan on getting a computer for the 8 year old boy, who will be enrolled in the local school in the Fall.” East View Public School (Algoma District School Board) is a stone’s throw away from the home.

Jeri shared many stories of community generosity where people have come forward with items. The RSC were offered a storage unit on Queen Street East to collect items into, until moving day at the end of April, 2016. Brian Gallagher, (previous owner) of ‘Store Your Stuff’ arranged for the free storage unit for approximately 6 months.

The RSC learned in early April that they had confirmation of a Syrian family (through the United Church head office) who wanted to come to the Sault.

“We were told that they would be here in 4 – 6 weeks. Now, we have no idea when they will be here.”

“We know that this family wanted to live in a smaller community. The father has a background in construction work.”

20160621_131204A couple who live in a rural farming community near Echo Bay, Ontario have offered a section of their farm for the refugee family to grow food. “They will come and pick up the family a couple of times each week over the growing season to bring them out to their farm. They’ve already got the car seat for the baby and a booster seat for the young boy ready to go.”

“Another family who market gardens, and is a member of Willowgrove UC has offered an ongoing supply of fresh produce for the family.”

“We have received support for our Committee from Manitouwadge, Wawa, St. Joe’s Island and numerous churches throughout Algoma Presbytery.” said Pearce. “We are so blessed.”

Anyone who wishes to support the work of the Refugee Sponsorship Committee based out of Willowgrove United Church can reach them Monday-Friday, 9am-12pm and 1pm-4pm at  705-254-5095. Cheques can be made out to Willowgrove Church Gifts and Memorials-Refugee Fund.

According to the United Nations, around 455,000 refugees are registered with the United Nations Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA) in Lebanon, with many living in the country’s 12 refugee camps. http://www.unrwa.org/where-we-work/lebanon/camp-profiles