As a result of the Syrian crisis, many Canadians (and many Calgarians!) are having conversations and taking action about how they can each help create the Canada we hope for. Together, many are welcoming refugee families to our great country and city. Facebook pages have been created, websites with important resource information have been shared.
One group calls themselves Hand Over Hand, and they partnered with the Mennonite Central Committee-Alberta. We talked to Lori Beattie, one of the organizers, about the inspiration and challenge of sponsoring a refugee family.
Q: What inspired you to create Hand Over Hand, a group of people to sponsor a Syrian Refugee Family? And when did you decide to just do it (and make it more than just a good idea)?
On Sept. 6, 2015 my friend Marla Orenstein sent out an email to her friends, asking for help to sponsor a Syrian refugee family. The photo of the little Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, who drowned trying to flee Syria with his family, had just been on the front page of the paper. After seeing that photo I also wanted to help. Marla’s email was all that I needed to move forward. Here is what Marla said that struck a chord with me and led me to invite some of my friends to help.
“Like many of you, I have been really moved by the plight of the Syrian refugees and wondering what I can do to help. I was really pleased to see the reception many are receiving in Germany, where individuals are welcoming them with open arms — I think their bond to Germany is likely to be positive and strong as opposed to what they will feel as a reaction to their hostile reception in some other countries. I want to be one of those places that welcomes people with open arms and makes new arrivals feel as though they are truly welcomed into their new country. “
Within a few days of Marla’s email we had our initial meeting and inside of 4 weeks we had 28 motivated people, from varying backgrounds, who have committed to giving time and money to make this a reality. Our group, Hand Over Hand, has partnered with the Mennonite Central Committee and will welcome a family of 8 Syrian’s, 6 children and 2 parents, to Calgary very soon.
Q. Sponsoring a Syrian Refugee Family has struck a chord with us and has successfully attracted involvement. Why do you think that is?
Alan Kurdi’s photo woke us up to the horrors of the war in Syria. Innocent people, families and little kids, are living in fear. Empathy for other people is what made us want to help. We will give this family and generations to come a chance to have a war-free life in Canada. A life with hope and opportunity, not fear.
Q. In the interests of inspiring others to take action in support of making Calgary even better: What was/is easy about your project?
It was easy to decide to help. And then the hard work began.
Q. What was/is challenging?
There is nowhere to go to get all your questions answered on how to sponsor a refugee family. Normally, church groups sponsor refugees and the process is very clear. When private groups such as ours started expressing an interest in helping, places like the Mennonite Central Committee were overloaded. In order to make it work you have to be persistent in your research to figure out the next step. I am very persistent.
Q. What’s your advice for people who might want to do a similar project for Calgary?
Jump right in and ask competent and committed friends to help. You will need a lot of hands to support a family for one year. No one has all the answers since this is a crisis. The key contact to make is with a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH). For us, that was the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). They are 84 SAH groups in Canada and these are all listed on the government website.
The other key question to ask the SAH is can you be a Constituent Group (CG) under the umbrella of the SAH? This used to be reserved for only church groups however with this crisis, the MCC is taking on groups like ours as CG’s. Normally private groups such as ours would be G5 groups (Group of 5). Becoming a CG is preferable. As a CG, you partner with the government for some funding and also, the application process is expedited. The SAH, in our case the Mennonite Central Committee, takes on full liability if they allow your group to be a CG under their umbrella so they need to ensure you can handle the one-year commitment to financially and logistically support a family.
Q. What’s next? In other words, has your Sponsorship of a Syrian Refugee Family resulted in any new community actions or events?
The next step is to fundraise double the funds that the government suggest we collect to support a family of 8. In Calgary, the cost of living is high so we need to ensure we can support this family. We are in charge of everything from schooling, to ESL, to health care, transportation and housing. We will continue working in our committees to get ready for the family. We do not know when they will arrive. It could be anytime from a month from now up to 6 months. We have planned a “Learn a tiny bit of Arabic” night and will educate ourselves on the situation in Syria so that we are sensitive to cultural issues. We will find groups like ours who have sponsored refugee families in the past and will ask them for advice on settlement. We are learning as we go and we are determined to help. Back to it!
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