It has been a quiet year while awaiting the arrival of our third (and final) Syrian family. Unfortunately, Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) notified us in August 2018 that the family we had chosen two years ago did not meet the requirements because they had returned to Syria and therefore no longer qualified as refugees. Given that it would take years to appeal this ruling, our group has decided to begin looking for another family to sponsor through the Blended Visa Office-Referred program - which means the family is pre-approved and hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for them to arrive in Canada.
We have already sponsored two refugee families through the generosity of those both in and outside the congregation. Our first family of 7 arrived in Feb. 2016, the second family of 5 in August 2016. Although FirstU is no longer responsible for these families because the year of legal sponsorship is over, we have formed many strong ties between them and the volunteers. Visits and social events are ongoing and both families have adapted well to their new Canadian life: the fathers are working hard in their full time jobs, everyone has learned basic English and the children are all enjoying school/daycare. We also worked with a Canadian Syrian family with whom we co-sponsored their relatives who arrived in September 2016. And we sent $10,000 to another UU congregation to help support a transgender refugee, whose sponsorship with a private outside group had fallen apart.
We helped two private groups from outside the congregation to settle Syrian families as well. The groups raised their own funds that FirstU managed for them. Both families arrived in December 2016. We are currently working with another external group called the Boat of Hope, whose sponsored family should be arriving sometime before winter. This family just had a new baby so a new set of forms were required by IRCC.
For the most part, settlement for all the families has gone well, although we have had some challenges helping families to budget, adjust to Canadian values, and deal with the trauma of living through war.
Volunteers have been incredibly dedicated to helping the families succeed in their new land. Volunteer teams provide all the necessary settlement support ranging from finding and furnishing accommodations, to getting children registered at school, to connecting the family to resources such as ESL and health services, to helping ease adaptation to our culture, and more.
Stay tuned for the next chapter...
Two more Families have arrived!
We are delighted to report that two of the community groups, with whom the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa (FUCO) has Memoranda of Understanding to sponsor Syrians, have welcomed families to Ottawa!
On November 21st, SalamOttawa welcomed their sponsored family (parents and two children). The family has just settled into their permanent home in early January, after a temporary arrangement staying with one of the group members.
Then just two days later on November 23rd, OttawaWelcomes gave a warm welcome to the Mohammed Alkarad and his family (parents, grandparents and one child) at the Ottawa airport. Mohammed was a champion wrestler in Syria. While living in a Jordan refugee camp, he built a training program that has welcomed 25,000 children in the past four years. He is now connected with the National Capital Wrestling Club. If you’d like to find out more about him, check out: OttawaWelcomes Facebook page
Our third community partner, Boat of Hope, is waiting patiently but as yet, has not received any news about when the family might arrive. Our fourth community partner is a family who needed help sponsoring their relatives - they arrived in Ottawa in September and are settling in well.
Meanwhile, we are almost at the end of FUCO’s formal sponsorship period for the first family (although many on the team will continue their strong ties of friendship) and we are working to ensure they are well prepared to move forward in their settlement process in Year 2.
The second Syrian family sponsored by FUCO was introduced to the congregation on December 11th. Both parents are studying hard to improve their English. They are expecting another child in February and the mother hopes to continue her studies shortly after the baby is born.
We expect FUCO's third sponsored Syrian family to arrive by next summer at the earliest.
In the midst of these difficult times, we are sustained and heartened by practicing our UU principles which support:
• The inherent dignity and worth of every person;
• Justice, equity and compassion in human relations; and
• The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.
Our Second Family has arrived!
In mid- August, Mohammad and Nadeen, with their children Sedra (three years old) and Khaled (two), arrived at the Ottawa airport to a welcoming group of volunteers. Several members of our first family joined the celebration as well. Our second family’s long journey went via Amman, Cairo and Toronto to a warm summer rain in Ottawa.
They have now settled into their furnished two-bedroom apartment and have acquainted themselves with their neighbourhood, visiting banks, supermarkets, drugstores and the library, guided by volunteers and a team of interpreters. Both parents have started ESL at Algonquin last week and have secured daycare for their two children close to home.
The volunteer support team has done a fabulous job attending to all of the many tasks required to ensure that the family settles comfortably into their new life in Ottawa.
Our First Family is doing well...
Sabah and Zuhir and their five children Mohammed, Ahmed, Yazan, Jana and Sham arrived six months ago and have since made huge strides in settling into their new community. Over the summer, Zuhir, Sabah and the kids have been meeting neighbours and enjoying the many nearby pools and parks. In addition, they have been helping their cousins, who arrived in July as Government Assisted Refugees, and are now living just a few doors away from them.
Zuhir is now taking a more challenging English program at Algonquin which he is working hard at and he is learning to drive. The three boys are back at school where they are learning English with ease. Sabah is hoping to start formal ESL on a part-time basis soon, but meanwhile is still receiving in-home ESL, supplemented by visits from a very committed team of volunteers.
Our Third Family is yet to come...
The sponsorship application has now been submitted for our third family which was found through the Ottawa Syrian community. Like our first two families, we will be responsible for their financial support and settlement for one year. We expect it will take at least a year before the family arrives given the estimated processing time by the Canadian government.
Spring has flown by with lots of activity on the Syrian Refugee project...
Our first family has settled comfortably into their permanent residence with the three older boys enjoying school and the two younger girls often playing at the park while their mom, Sabah, has her in-house ESL classes. Zuhir (the father) is doing well at his ESL classes - he will attend extra sessions over the summer.
Meanwhile, we are seeking temporary housing for our second family. Mohammad and Nadeen, and their two toddlers - daughter Seda (2 1/2) and son Khaled (1 1/2), are expected to arrive from Jordan in the next two to twelve weeks. If you know of temporary space for rent or are able to open up your home for a period of anywhere from two to eight weeks, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
We continue to be amazed at the commitment, generosity, and kindness of all involved in our work to create a safe and welcoming community for Syrian newcomers.
The next two FUCO sponsored families are chosen!
One family has been found through the government’s Blended Visa Office-Referred Program and includes young parents in their twenties with two children (ages 1 and 2). The family, currently living in Jordan, may arrive anytime over the summer/early fall. Our Family Support Team #2 is gearing up to welcome them.
The second family includes parents with three girls, ages 9, 3, and 1. They have relatives in Ottawa who are putting a volunteer team together to help with their settlement and we will provide the financial support. Because this is a private sponsorship (with no government help), it may take a year or even longer before the family arrives.
With the spring weather, we are now looking for bicycles and helmets for the children in our first family (ages 9, 7, and 4). And we could still use a queen size bed frame for the parents. If you can help, please contact: email@example.com
First day of school…a little convincing was required...
Last weekend a few members of the Family Team took Zuhir, Sabah and their five children to the Sugar Bush. Here is a first hand report from Jane:
"Fortune Farms is a low key, not very commercial sugar bush. A perfect size for our family and not very crowded. Everyone was friendly beginning with the girl who made them taffy sticks, rolling them on the snow. We then tramped through the bush to see the various stages of tapping trees and boiling the syrup.
At one place there were a group of men in odd hats who looked like a geriatric version of trailer park boys. When we told them that the family was Syrian, they greeted them in Arabic. Turns out they are part of a group sponsoring a family of five in Perth. These men couldn't have been nicer to the kids, showing them old fashioned wooden toys that one of them makes, letting them into the cage with little lambs, letting them on the snowmobile, and giving them pins with the Canadian flag and a trillium. One man took Kitty and I aside and said: isn't sponsoring a family about the best thing you have ever done.
A few snowball fights, a stop to pat some friendly dogs, a maple tart and then we drove home with cars full of tired children and happy parents (Kitty, Ted and I were probably the happiest)"
In a few short weeks, our Syrian family went from the heat of Lebanon to cross country skiing in the cold snow at Mooney’s Bay.
Volunteers of the Syrian Refugee Subgroup arranged for free equipment and lessons for Zuhir and two of his boys. Instructors taught them how to glide, handle poles and even go down hills. Zuhir is a natural athlete and quickly learned to manoeuvre the equipment both in and out of tracks. The boys, aged 9 and 7, were not quite as adept but their determination to learn shone through tumble after tumble.
The lesson ended with huge smiles and thumbs up from Canada’s newest skiers. A huge thank you goes to John Asselin, Program Supervisor with the City of Ottawa for providing this quintessential Canadian experience.
Our family (with parents Sabah, Zuhir and their five young children) arrived in Ottawa on Thursday, February 18! They were greeted by many Unitarians and other members of our volunteer team. It was a wonderful welcome with much excitement and applause. Sabah (the mother) said she was very nervous and worried until she saw us all at the bottom of the escalator. They were taken to their temporary residence, a two bedroom condo. The team shared a Syrian dinner with them, provided by a volunteer.
After living on a farm with a leaky roof near Beirut for the last five years, the family expressed their gratitude through our interpreter: "They are grateful to be here and to have had all of you who took the time to come greet them at the airport...they feel very lucky to have been chosen by you and are very excited to meet you... The kids are overjoyed and in heaven, they have not seen a toy in five years."
The family of seven will arrive in Ottawa this week! We are very excited to welcome them and help them settle into their temporary accommodation. Most household items and furniture have been generously donated and the family is now well set up, however, we are still looking for the following:
Thank you to everyone who has participated in this effort - it takes a village to shelter a family!
First the sad news―we are unable to sponsor the first family we chose, because we were advised by an immigration lawyer that it is unlikely they would pass the security checks used during the Canadian immigration process. This is the family composed of parents, two grandparents and four children. The Steering Committee made this decision after much reflection and deliberation.
The good news is that we have secured permanent housing starting April 1st for our second family (with five children). We are now looking for temporary accommodation in case they arrive before April 1st. If you have any suggestions, please let us know at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Meanwhile, we are busy looking for another family through the BVOR list.