We are coming to the end of the year of our official sponsorship of the Al Jbawi family, refugees from the civil war in Syria. Along with members from St. Paul’s Church and the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer, our coordinating committee (the Newcomer Settlement Team, or NeST) has helped the family find housing and settle into their new life in Canada.
The NeST members have enjoyed getting to know the family—the parents, Khalil and Kholoud, and their four children, Ahmed (16), Ayman (14), Layan (9), and Arjowan (7)—and feel privileged to have been so intimately a part of their lives this past year.
They have been inspired by Khalil and Kholoud’s heroic efforts to learn English (Kholoud is consistently at the top of her class); Khalil’s part-time employment at a restaurant, until opportunities open up in his field of cabinetmaking; the children’s unique and flourishing personalities, and their progress in school; and the family’s adoption of such classic Canadian activities as cycling, cross-country skiing, and perhaps even hunting and fishing.
The family’s resilience and ambition have deeply impressed the NeST members, not only their harrowing flight from Syria to a refugee camp in Jordan, but also their determination to overcome all obstacles and embrace their new life here in Canada.
This Sunday, the Al Jbawi family will join us during our coffee hour after church. They have come a long way to be with us. Please come out and meet this impressive family—and wish them well.
The refugee family we are sponsoring has now experienced a taste of Canadian winter! Walking on ice is taking some adjustment but they remain positive and open to new experiences. They really enjoyed attending their first live hockey game as part of a birthday celebration last month. We hope to plan skating, tobogganing and cross-country skiing outings with them once winter returns. Both adults continue to dedicate themselves to their full time English studies which are going very well. On his own initiative, last month Khalil started part-time weekend work at a restaurant.
There are some significant expenses on the horizon for the New Year, most notably urgent dental work for which we’ve been told there is no IRCC health plan funding. This has been a common experience for many Syrian refugees and their sponsors. Your ongoing donations to help cover such extraordinary costs are appreciated.
NeST is always happy to welcome new team members, and the family is open and eager to make social connections to practice their English and build vocabulary. Contact Barb Driftmier if you’d like to be a part of the adventure either as a team member or making a more casual connection with the family.
Life continues to be busy for this newcomer family on many fronts, especially now that everyone has started school full time. Managing four kids in four different schools in addition to the parents’ own full time ELL education has been a challenge but one they have risen to with their usual determined good spirits. In-home ELL support continues twice a week with NeST volunteers, and volunteers continue to support with health and dental appointments, financial mentoring, transportation, and assorted ongoing resettlement tasks.
The family has been working hard on their language studies, but taking time for fun too. Teenager Ayman celebrated his first Canadian birthday in September with a high-energy afternoon at a trampoline park, along with his family and friends from his neighbourhood and NeST. Ayman also, by the way, successfully harvested a small tomato crop before the frost, from plants he tended all summer. NeST volunteers, please stay tuned to Lotsa Helping Hands for upcoming NeST-sponsored social events, or contact Social Team Lead Sarah ([email protected]) if you would like to arrange something or join the team.
And finally, the family has requested additional seating for their living room, correctly noting that once the six of them sit on their current couch and loveseat there isn’t much room left for guests! If you have or know of a sofa or loveseat in very good shape to donate please contact the Household Goods Team (John at [email protected] or Catherine at [email protected]) to see if it will be suitable for their space. On behalf of Al Jbawis, thank you for your ongoing support!
The Al Jbawi family are doing well in settling into their new life in Calgary. The parents are already in the LINC program (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada), learning English everyday. The children are all registered and excited to start school in this month, with some excellent extra language support in place. NeST Volunteers go to the home twice a week to help them further with their English.
All last week the boys played soccer with ‘Soccer Without Boundaries’ which took place just across the road from where they live. This week it’s school intakes and transport orientation to and from schools.
Those of us involved with NeST are grateful for all contributions of time, furniture etc., and financial, towards this super family.
“Khalil and Kholoud very graciously hosted an Open House last Sunday for the volunteers assisting them in settling into Calgary. They know that the people they have met so far represent a wider community of support and friendship and they wanted to express their gratitude to everyone, including the volunteers they have yet to meet.
A great deal has been accomplished over the past month to help the family feel welcome in Calgary. They, in turn, wanted to welcome us into their home for a celebration. There was much lively conversation despite the language challenges and we were presented with a vast array of wonderful, home-made Syrian food, along with their sincere thanks. We are equally grateful to be a part of their lives.”
We don’t have an arrival date yet BUT on Thanksgiving Sunday, Fransis of our Translation Team was able to contact the father of the Syrian family we are sponsoring and have a brief telephone conversation. This is our first direct contact with the family.
The father, Khalil, said that he and his family are ok and that they have completed their paperwork and medical requirements. They are awaiting word from the government for next steps. Fransis explained to Khalil that there is a whole team of people eager and excited for their arrival in Canada and that we are holding them in our thoughts and prayers. This first contact went well and ended with a plan to stay in touch. We will keep you posted, too!
NeST (Newcomer Support Team) continues to prepare as we await word on an arrival date for the Syrian refugee family of 6 we are sponsoring, currently waiting in Jordan.
- About 51 NeST volunteers met for an Orientation Session at St. Stephen’s on Sept 18 and heard an update on each Team’s activities and preparations to date. Volunteers received copies of the NeST Volunteer Guidelines and (if applicable) Volunteer Driver Policies. Those who have completed the security screening for working directly with the family received their NeST nametags. This wonderful ‘village’ is patiently waiting to support the family when they come.
- Between individual donations, outreach contributions, two garage sales, St. Paul’s silent auction and the sale of quilts made by St. Stephen’s quilters, we have raised just over $40,000. This is a phenomenal response and gives us a strong financial base from which to support the family through their first year in Canada. Note that the anticipated partial government funding (6 months of support at social assistance levels) will be in addition to the above.
- Our sponsorship “undertaking” is in the processing queue. Once the Matching Centre has ensured all paperwork and requirements have been met, the Visa Office in Jordan will arrange travel for the family and send us notice of their pending arrival. We have been told to expect about 10 days’ lead time for their arrival in Calgary.
- Given the challenges of an unknown arrival time and perhaps a very short time to prepare permanent housing, we are still looking for temporary accommodation options. Please contact a NeST Team member if you have suggestions to offer that could be available on short notice.
- In lieu of the whole ‘village’ greeting the family in person upon their arrival we have begun collecting signs and good wishes for a small contingent of greeters to bring to the airport to represent the wider community. This is based on advice from other groups’ experiences of very exhausted travellers and long delays getting through customs at the airport. Our hope would be to arrange a larger welcoming celebration when the newcomers are better able to enjoy meeting everyone.
All our patience and preparation have paid off. Sometime in the coming months, a Syrian family will be arriving via Amman, Jordan , to begin a new life here in Canada. Together with St. Paul’s Anglican Church and the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer, we are their sponsors and we will become their support while they settle in.
The family comprises a mom and dad and four children—two boys, 14 and 12, and two girls, 9 and 5. The dad and the older three children speak some English, there are no known medical issues, and the dad has transferable skills for employment here. It sounds like they are well positioned to succeed in their new life.
Our NeST team (Newcomer Support Team) will be submitting a formal application to the Central Processing Office for the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) Program, the federal program to place UN-approved refugees with private Canadian sponsors. Once approved, the application will be forwarded to the Visa Office in Amman and we are told the family could arrive between three to six weeks after that.
So there are still some bureaucratic steps to follow, but barring any unforeseen stumbling blocks we could be meeting our family a few months from now—lots of time to raise both money and awareness and create room for them in our hearts. More information will follow as it becomes available. In the meantime you can direct any questions to Carol Rose Skelly, NeST Co-Chair.
We don’t know. Which means, in a very small way, we are living an uncertain future alongside the people we are hoping to welcome to safety and new life here. We are ready and the need is great, but keeping up with – and waiting on — changes in federal government programs, focus, and procedures has been a challenge and is the current bottleneck. Additional temporary visa offices opened abroad to process and screen Syrian refugees in a fast and focused way were closed once the government met its initial resettlement commitment early in 2016.
Canada is receiving international attention for its extraordinary response to the Syrian crisis, and a spirit of compassion continues to move across this land. Cultivating patience, persistence, and flexibility is where we’re at right now, as the government figures out what to do with compassion that has exceeded their expectations.
So where does this leave us?
The planning team at NeST has been working towards the sponsorship of a travel-ready family from Syria through the pre-screened BVOR (Blended Visa Office-Referred) private sponsorship, a partially-government funded refugee program; however, many other Canadian groups are ready and waiting too, and BVOR refugees are being selected for sponsorship literally within seconds of being made available. We needed to have our funding and committees in place before we could submit an application to sponsor, so we are ready to go – but the timeline for being matched with a family is unknown. With changing conditions, even once we are matched it may well be late 2016 or 2017 before the people we hope to sponsor will arrive. NeST is exploring how we might responsibly accelerate that. Meanwhile, if you’ve offered to volunteer and support the NeST program, we thank you and promise to keep you informed as we move forward.
Carol Rose-Skelly and Jennifer Solem