Kitchener-Waterloo

Waterloo church rallies to sponsor woman and 7 children fleeing Aleppo

A Syrian family and Parkminster United Church in Waterloo are rallying to sponsor a woman fleeing the atrocities of war in Aleppo.

Parkminster United Church is raising $30,000 to bring family currently seeking refuge in Lebanon to Canada

Khairiya Al Mohamed is concerned about her sister's well-being. She says right now, her nieces and nephews don't have enough food to eat and can't go to school in Lebanon. (Peggy Lam/CBC News)

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. 

Siham Ali Al Mohamed fled the war-torn Syrian city in 2016 after her husband died from a bomb strike. She crossed the border illegally into Lebanon, with her nephew and seven children ranging from two to 14 years old. Currently, Siham is renting a small piece of land there, while trying to make ends meet. 

"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. 

Siham Ali Al Mohamed and her seven children, are currently taking refuge in Lebanon, waiting for sponsorship. (Submitted by Khairiya Al Mohamad)

Khairiya describes her sister's situation as "very bad."

"Children ...no school, no eat good, no water, no sleeping," she said in broken English.  

"My mom says it's really bad because they don't have food. They have nowhere to work. They have no money," Khairiya's 13-year-old son, Khaled Al Mohamad, translated for his mother. 

"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"

After six weeks of fundraising, Parkminister United Church has raised over $25,000 and is nearly at its $30,000 goal. 

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. 

Rob MacQueen holds Khairiya Al Mohamed's son. He's the chair of Parkminster United Church's refugee sponsorship committee. (Peggy Lam/CBC News)

"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."

Siham's husband died in 2016, since then, she has fled Aleppo and war-torn Syria. (Submitted by Khairiya Al Mohamad)

"​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.

 MacQueen said he is "pretty confident" they will reach their fundraising goal. Some of the donations have come from as far as California and Vermont. 

"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." 

About the Author

Peggy Lam

Reporter

Peggy is a reporter based in Winnipeg. She has worked for the CBC in Vancouver, Toronto, St. John's, Kitchener-Waterloo and Edmonton. Got a story idea? Email her at peggy.lam@cbc.ca or tweet her @peggylam_

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