Nova Scotia

Bridgetown prepares to welcome Iraqi refugee family

Members of two Baptist churches in the Bridgetown area of Nova Scotia are preparing to welcome an Iraqi family of six now living in a refugee camp.

All furnishings, including a computer and a cord of wood, were donated by local residents

Gordon Hay and Major Paul Blake of the Salvation Army moving a mattress into the house for the family. (CBC)

Members of two Baptist churches in the Bridgetown area of Nova Scotia are preparing to welcome an Iraqi family of six now living in a refugee camp.

Their group, called Paradise Refugee Support, is raising the $16,500 it needs to match Ottawa's re-settlement money to sponsor a family for their first year in Canada.

Through local donations, the group has managed to find and completely furnish a two-storey home in Bridgetown for the 34-year-old single mother and her five daughters from 10 to 18-years-old.

"From Iraq, they went to Syria," said Pastor Mark Reece of the Paradise Baptist Church.

"They were displaced after having lived in Syria for about eight years and now in Turkey, for the last 18 to 20 months in a refugee camp, they are looking for a fresh start."

Joanne Wright with the Paradise Refugee Support group. (CBC)

Joanne Wright is one of a handful of volunteers with the Paradise Refugee Support group who is organizing yard sales and community concerts to help pay for groceries and the rent on the home.

She claims finding the house for the refugee family was literally an answer to a prayer.

"When we made a decision to sponsor this family, we prayed for a house," says Wright. "And when I got home that night, I checked my Facebook and I saw a house that was for rent which came up that evening. So the house came to us."

Donations from community

A local carpenter repaired the back deck for free and the pastor with the local Salvation Army delivered two mattresses sold at a discount to the local Lions Club.

All furnishings, including a computer and a cord of wood, were donated by local residents. Wright is not surprised by the response.

"We live in a small tight-knit rural community," she says. "We see and hear of things happening around the world and often you feel there's not much you can do. When we realized this is something we could do, we felt it was important to step up and do it."

Retired civil servant and Paradise resident Gordon Hay got the ball rolling last January when he heard a CBC interview about the federal government looking for community partners to settle refugees.

Canada has committed to settling 3,000 Iraqi refugees by the end of this year and 10,000 Syrian families over three years. (Mohammed Zaatari/Associated Press)

Hay's group had originally requested a Syrian family but Citizenship and Immigration Canada provided three profiles of Iraqi refugee families.

Canada has committed to settling 3,000 Iraqi refugees by the end of this year and 10,000 Syrian families over three years.

Current contact with the Iraqi mother has been on the telephone through an Arabic-speaking relative of one of the group's founding members. Hay says they're told she "jumps for joy" when she sees the phone number of her caller from Canada.

Arriving over the next month

Hay knows daily visits from his group and weekly English as a second language lessons for the family may not be enough to help them through the culture shock they are bound to experience when they arrive in rural Nova Scotia sometime over the next month.

And there's no guarantee they will stay in Bridgetown.

"Success is not measured in whether they live in our community, whether they go to university here or start businesses here," says Hay. "That's not how we are measuring success. We are measuring it just in getting them out of a terrible horrible war-torn situation, getting them over here to Canada."    

Over the next three years, the Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches has committed to sponsoring 50 refugee families through churches in Atlantic Canada — half the total of Canadian Baptist churches.

Intercultural ministries director Paul Carline says the Syrian conflict is "driving the response," and is similar but on a smaller scale to the response to the Vietnamese Boat People crisis during the early 1970s.

Carline says as a sponsoring agency, the Atlantic Baptists are "willing to work as an umbrella for other groups interested in helping settle people left homeless by the conflict in Syria."

The United Nations Refugee agency estimates four million refugees have left Syria in past five years.

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