Faith-based coalition approved for Syrian family

Refugee sponsors, volunteers ‘waiting for the phone call’

Volunteers are working furiously to prepare for a Syran refugee family that could arrive in the community at any moment.

“We have been approved for a family … a mother and father and two children. We don’t know much more than that. We are anticipating, given the fact that our application was ushered through so quickly, that they could arrive anytime,” said Gaye Sharpe, of the Refugee Sponsorship Steering Committee.

“We’ve been told to prepare for them and that’s what we’re doing – we’re waiting for the phone call.”

The family would be the first sponsored by the partnership of Oak Bay United, St. Aidan’s United in Saanich and Masjid Al-Iman mosque in Victoria.

With a “spectacular” response from the communities, Sharpe says once the first family is settled, they anticipate seeking out a second sponsor family.

The initial goal of bringing one family grew to two, but they have the money and volunteer time and energy raised to nearly support two.

“It seems certainly that we almost have enough money right now to bring two and the fundraising efforts have not stopped and people are continuing to give. As long as people keep giving we will not stop,” Sharpe said.

Volunteer offers of professional services range from dental and medical to psychologists experienced with patients with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“It goes the gamut – ESL teachers, people who have worked in refugee camps who are able to support traumatized children and youth. We don’t know if that’s the situation, but I think we can be sure that they’ve had considerable upset in their lives,” Sharpe said. “Having to leave everything would be traumatic enough let alone leaving a war zone.”

The group has far exceeded their target for one family – $60,000 for a year, a little higher than the government standard minimum due to the cost of living in Victoria – with $100,000 in the bank.

“People walk into the office at the church on a daily basis it seems to give donations,” Sharpe said.

The group also has temporary housing in place, so the family can be involved in choosing a home, should the phone ring.

“The great gift of working with the mosque is there are people who speak the language, and there are people who are Syrian,” Sharpe said.

They’ll task one male and one female mentor to connect with the family. “They’ll be people who can walk along with the family through the whole process of getting to know Victoria. That way there’s not a cast of thousands involved all the time.”

That privacy is a key consideration for the steering committee and should the phone ring today, or yesterday, very few people may actually know.

“We’ll leave it up to the family if they want to be involved with the media,” she said. “We want to make sure the family’s privacy is respected and that they’re safe. Almost everyone is welcoming and very excited to help them make Victoria a home, but there are some people who are nervous and afraid. That’s the other thing we need to be cognizant of.”

Search for refugee sponsorship at oakbay-unitedchurch.ca to make donations online.