Waterloo church rallies to sponsor woman and 7 children fleeing Aleppo
Parkminster United Church is raising $30,000 to bring family currently seeking refuge in Lebanon to Canada
Parkminster United Church in Waterloo is attempting to raise $30,000 to bring to Canada a Syrian mother and her seven children fleeing atrocities in Aleppo.
"Basically [it's] big enough to pitch a tent on and they have constructed a canvas tent, where Siham is now living with her seven children," said Rob MacQueen, the chair of the church's refugee sponsorship committee, who has been in touch with Siham.
Relatives in Waterloo
MacQueen said the church was notified of Siham's condition by another Syrian family they previously sponsored a few years ago.
"The family is really concerned about their relatives and the conditions they are living in," said MacQueen.
Siham's sister, Khairiya Al Mohamed, came to Canada two years ago with her husband and children. Now, she lives in Waterloo.
Khairiya describes her sister's situation as "very bad."
"Children ...no school, no eat good, no water, no sleeping," she said in broken English.
"But it's better than Syria because there, a lot of people died," he said.
"My mom's sister — she's sad, because her children, they can't learn and they can't eat. There's no school. There's no future in Lebanon."
Fundraising as "easy part"
MacQueen said there's been "a history of refugee sponsorship" at the congregation, dating back to the late 1970s, when the church also sponsored a family of Vietnamese boat refugees.
"Even though it's been a while, there's still a history of that," said MacQueen. "With both proposals, they were approved unanimously by the congregation."
"The financial support has also been very impressive," he said.
But MacQueen said fundraising is only the first step. The bulk of the hard work will be helping the family come and integrate into Canada.
"In some ways, raising the money is the easy part, then you have to take all the steps to complete the application. Once the family does arrive, there is a lot of on-the-ground work."
Barriers to resettlement
MacQueen said a huge barrier will be finding housing for a large family, but the goal is to find a "a semi-detached townhouse" with "some room" and a yard to accommodate the children.
"It can be quite expensive," he said. "That is one of the biggest challenges that we'll face right off the bat."
"Our goal is to find them housing in the general neighbourhood of the family that's already here because we know that having the emotional support, as well as the practical support of friends and family who are already here is really important."
MacQueen said another challenge will be ensuring the family is able to find community
"It's not easy when you have people from two very different cultures. They speak different languages, so it takes a lot of energy and effort to try to help these folks resettle," he said.
"Helping them to know where they can shop for the type of food they want to eat and where they can find a bank that has Arabic speaking staff members, where they can find an Arabic speaking doctor, dentist and all that types of things."
MacQueen said at the same time, the family needs to have their independence and be able to make their decisions.
"So it's [about] trying to be a helpful friend and trying not to control anything for them."
Long application process
The church's refugee sponsorship committee hopes to submit a sponsorship application, which includes the documentation stating they have raised the necessary funds, for Siham and her children, by the end of March.
"They supported what we were trying to do and perhaps some of the public opinion in the United States was not as welcoming as it was here in Canada," he said.
In total, the church will be putting in $42,000 to sponsor Siham and her family, which consists of $12,000 from the refugee resettlement fund and $30,000 they are currently raising.
Once the application has been submitted, it takes about six months to process in Canada, and then up to 18 months to process overseas.
"We have communicated that it could be two years before the family even makes their way to Canada."