Syrian refugees made welcome in Brownfield, Alta., population 15

An Edmonton college is teaming up with citizens in a small town in central Alberta to make life a little easier for a family of recently-arrived Syrian refugees.

It's a long way from Syria to Brownfield, Alta., but one family has made the trek

The family of four first fled their native Syria for Lebanon, where lack of work opportunities left them in a vulnerable state. Earlier this week, they make the trek to Brownfield, Alta. (Google)

An Edmonton college is teaming up with citizens in a small town in central Alberta to make life a little easier for a family of recently-arrived Syrian refugees.

Brownfield, located about 200 kilometres east of Red Deer, has a population of only 15 — but residents aren't letting the town's size stand in the way of giving the family of four all they need to settle in. 

Brownfield is about 200 kilometres east of Red Deer in central Alberta. (Google)

The family, made up of a husband and wife, their young daughter and the man's mother, arrived in Alberta on Monday, by way of Lebanon where they had been living for several years after fleeing their native Syria.

All four were sponsored by the Brownfield Baptist Church as part of a larger initiative by the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada to sponsor 30 Syrian families in total. Of those, the Brownfield Baptist Church will take in two families.

Jordan Webber, one of the men behind the project, said he and others in the community were inspired to action after hearing about the circumstances faced by refugees.

"They have a heartbreaking story and are war-torn and were forced from their homes like we don't understand," he said.

"We really wanted to respond with compassion and love and so we looked into this process."

When the family arrived in Brownfield, they were greeted with a reception and an official translator helped with introductions and helped them get settled.

The next evening, the family joined Webber and other members of the congregation for dinner, this time without a translator.

The group relied instead upon their smartphones to help get their messages across.

"There's a lot of technology out there. All of us old farmers have been turning to the apps on our phone to try and get a few words across," Webber said.

College program helps train ESL teachers

Soon, though, the community and its newest residents will receive a leg-up on the communication front courtesy of Norquest College's Rural Roots program, a provincial initiative that supports community-based English-as-a second-language projects.

Rural Roots is currently working in about 80 communities scattered across the province to help train instructors and mentors in effective ESL techniques, said project manager Barb Hudkins.
Barb Hudkins is the project manager for Norquest College's Rural Roots program. (CBC)

"We have really great faculty and ESL developers out there who are able to support curriculum for (the refugees)," she said.

"We're busy and we want to get out there right away to support these teachers so we can support their learners."

Hudkins said she expects her staff to be training in Brownfield in the next few days, where they will be leading workshops to help people there communicate with the new arrivals.

There is also an online component that community members can use after the instructors have left, she said.

Settling in well

A few days in, and with a few extra layers of clothing, the Syrian family is settling in well, Webber said.

"They're just beautiful people that we love having in our homes," Webber said. "We've really actually had a lot of fun starting this journey together."

Because Brownfield is so small and lacks amenities, the refugees will eventually set up their home in nearby Coronation.

"It's like a whole new start for them," Webber said. "They tell us 'This is home. We can feel it.' So I think they're going to fit into our community out here really well."

A second family was expected to join the community soon, but failed to report for processing yesterday in Lebanon, congregation member Robin Bruneau told CBC News. 

She said the committee is now in the process of determining its next steps to either help the family on its way or to select an alternate family for sponsorship.