It has been a wild week for the members of Abbotsford’s Interfaith Refugee Project set to welcome a Syrian refugee family to Canada Friday afternoon.
On Monday, the group held a regular meeting to prepare for the expected arrival of refugees in late February at the very earliest. But that night, an unexpected call relayed the news that the young family would be arriving later this week.
The two dozen members of the group quickly sprung into action to have everything in place for the family, a 28-year-old man, a 26-year-old woman and their nine-month-old baby daughter. The three had been staying in a refugee camp in Jordan.
The husband and wife had previously attended university in Iraq, and the man speaks at least some English. Beyond those details though, the group knows little of the incoming refugees, who will stay with a local family in the days after their arrival.
“We were in total shock because we thought we had at least a month,” said Donald Strangway, one of the members with the group.
Nevertheless, the week has been exciting, he said, and a diverse swath of Abbotsford has laid the groundwork to ease the family’s transition into life in Canada.
From Sikh groups to Muslim organizations and Christian churches, Strangway says help for the refugees has come from across faith and cultural lines.
“The project has caught fire – everybody is enthused,” he said.
The group has raised just over $28,000 toward the $32,000 that will be required to fulfill the project’s 60 per cent of the family’s first-year costs under the blended visa office referral initiative, through which the sponsorship is taking place. (The government covers the other 40 per cent of the costs).
A variety of help has come courtesy of Abbotsford Community Services, while a Syria-born pharmacist has offered to provide translating assistance.
A presentation at a Sikh temple netted an impromptu donation exceeding $600, and the whole fundraising effort was kicked off when Aldergrove United Church offered $15,000 raised from the sale of their building.
“The enthusiasm has just grown,” Strangway noted. He said members of the refugee group, which includes members of a variety of faiths, along with some non-affiliated participants, have seized on the opportunity to do something meaningful in regards to a worldwide crisis they had been watching from afar. He said there has been substantial support from the large number of locals who are either immigrants, or children of immigrants to Canada.
“This makes it personal,” Strangway said.
The refugees will arrive in Vancouver on Friday afternoon and be greeted by a large welcoming sign in Arabic. They’ll then come to Abbotsford, where the group hopes to give the family some time to recover from their long journey.
With some fundraising still needed, the group has plans to hold a burger and beer night at Town Hall on Feb. 24. There are also plans for a concert on April 3, along with a potluck and live auction on a future date.
For more information visit http://interfaithrefugeeproject.blogspot.ca/