By David F. Rooney
With the federal government beginning to fly Syrian refugees to this country, Revelstoke’s local refugee-sponsorship group is starting its campaign to raise the $60,000 it needs to bring a desperate family here.
“We are at the point where we can’t proceed any further unless we raise enough money to support a family,” said Revelstoke for Refugees’ Chairwoman Rana Nelson.
“The government says $30,000 on its website, but we all know from experience that Revelstoke is more expensive than most other towns so we’re looking for $60,000 as the start-up cost for a family. You need money for a place to live, furnishings, clothing and everything they would need for a whole year. We also want them to enjoy life here to so they’ll need bikes and money to join clubs and other activities.”
Rana said she hopes some property owner will pitch in with a house and an offer to help out. They’ll need appliances, beds, chairs, tables, clothes, age-appropriate toys for their kids, a TV, books, a phone, laptop and other technological devices and more. When you start to think about what they’ll require it seems almost endless.
Sixty thousand dollars doesn’t grow on trees and the group is starting to raise the money they need to sponsor a family that has fled the vicious fighting in their homeland. So far 464 of the 25,000 the federal government has promised to rescue have arrived in Canada.
Churches are in the process of asking their congregations for funds through pledges as Christmas Eve offerings, and through a gospel music concert in January. The group is also planning a movie night at the Performing Arts Centre on January 21. There is no word yet regarding the film to be shown but entry will be by donation. Revelstoke for Refugees will also have a table at the Multricultural Society’s annual Carousel of Nations. You can also expect to see posters, flyers and handouts regarding this initiative in the coming weeks. You may, in fact receive one when you attend the Community Choir’s concerts on Sunday and Monday, December 13 and 14.
This is a major undertaking and likely won’t be ready for the next stage until the necessary seed money is sitting in the Revelstoke for Refugees’ bank account.
That’s when the group can look at selecting the family it wants to sponsor. Retired physician Robyn Abear, who once worked with refugees n Southeast Asia, is a member of the group and said there are a lot of factors to consider. What level of English will they have? What kind of work can they do? Are local employers prepared to hire one or both parents? Who in our community is willing to step up and welcome this family and help them settle in? Their language skills will be very important because Revelstoke for Refugees has not been able to find anyone here who speaks Arabic.
Then there is the religion question. Is the family Muslim? Christian? Yazidi? There is at least one Muslim living in Revelstoke but there is no mosque. The closest Islamic Centres are in Vernon and Kelowna and the nearest Syrians to Revelstoke will be in Salmon Arm. That community is sponsoring eight families for a total of 40 individuals. Christians (Yes, there are Christian refugees.) might find it easier to settle here. There are about 5,000 Yazidis living in Canada, mostly in Toronto and Vancouver but none here in Revelstoke.
“We have to get out of our insular cocoon,” Robyn said in an interview on Monday, December 7. “We are about as ignorant about Syrians as they are about us.”
She and Rana said there are resources Revelstokians can — and should — access to learn more about Syria, its people and the civil war that has devastated them. The Canadian government’s refugee-specific website contains a lot of relevant information about donations, sponsorship and other things we can so. There is also a vast quantity of information available on other sites such as Wikipedia and at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees website here (This is a country profile with general information about Syria.) and here (This page contains specific information about the almost 4.4 million registered Syrian refugees).
The successful adaptation of whoever we bring here will depend, in large part on our ability to truly welcome them as a community. In all likelihood they will arrive with little more than the clothes on their backs. They will have endured dangers, terrors and hardships that the vast majority of Canadians cannot even image. Sure, we have all seen television news reports about the civil war, the atrocities committed by the jihadists, people drowning in the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas and the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children tramping across a sometimes-hostile Europe in search sanctuary. But TV cannot really convey the total horror of it. Only people who have seen warfare and wholesale destruction first hand can appreciate what they are going through.
But we are a country built by immigrants and refugees and with that history in mind we should be able to step up, assume responsibility for a desperate family, make them feel welcome and above all, safe.