Friday, April 12, 2013

Making a difference, one refugee family at a time.

A few months ago a church friend, Shirley Bishop, asked me to join the "Kanata Stittsville Refugee Support Group" as a representative from Glen Cairn United Church. She was most surprised and pleased when I accepted the invitation. The Refugee Support Group has representatives from seven churches in Kanata and neighbouring Stittsville, suburbs on the western edge of Ottawa. My position on the Group was to build on the work of the previous rep, Kathryn Graham.

There has been a steep learning curve as I hear about refugee issues in many areas of the world, and of the current and past activities of this group to help refugees. When one hears of 250 00 refugees from Syria, similar numbers from Afghanistan, and huge numbers in other parts of the world, the refugee problems seem unsurmountable. What effect can seven small churches have on these problems in suburban Ottawa?

The seven churches are as follows: Glen Cairn United Church (my church), Kanata United Church, Stittsville United Church, St. Paul's Anglican Church in Kanata, St. Thomas and St. John's Anglican Churches, and St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, Stittsville. The representatives from these churches promote the Refugee Group in their churches and raise funds from them for the work of the committee.

When I joined the group, I found there were currently five individual refugees supported by us. One was a Somali refugee recently arrived from a refugee camp in Kenya. As a sponsor of this person, the group provided funds of around $600.00 per month for the first year of her stay in Canada. This enables her, along with support from her extended family, to take academic upgrading in English language skills to prepare her for college admission.

The other four people are Rwandan orphans and refugees the group supports in Rwanda. The group, made the decision a year or more before I joined them to support the education of these siblings "in situ" rather than as immigrant refugees. This is a longer term commitment than the usual refugee sponsorship since the group is supporting the four to complete both their high school education as well as university education. Another three or four years of support are scheduled.

Recently, the Refugee Group has been asked by an Afghan refugee living in Canada to help his sister and family by sponsoring them to come to Canada. This family of six lived in Afghanistan and were associated with the Allied Forces their. The husband worked in the petroleum industry while the wife was a doctor. As the Allied Forces began to reduce their presence in Afghanistan, people such as these, seen as Western sympathizers, became the victims of terrorist type attacks, shakedowns and threats of child kidnapping. As such pressures increased, the family had to leave Afghanistan, first to Pakistan and then on to Tajikistan. There they live in a refugee camp in very substandard conditions. There only source of income is moneys sent to them by their extended family in Canada.

It was this personal story, told us by the brother, that lead the Refugee Group to formally begin the time-consuming task of completing the paperwork for such a refugee application. The Refugee Group, with the extended family in Canada, will co-sponsor the refugee application, and share the costs of the necessary supports.

On Sunday, I will present information about this family and this sponsorship initiative to the Glen Cairn congregation and ask for their support in dollars and in attending a fund-raising concert on June 1st by a huge community choir, the gospel singing Big Soul Project. This concert will be held at the nearby St. Paul's Anglican Church with its larger seating capacity. Similar presentations will be made in the other churches.

While the seven churches cannot make the refugee problem disappear, it can and will make a difference in the life of one refugee family.

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