As Lions Bay resident Alison Dudley recently sat in her car outside a home in Burnaby, she was nervous.
Early for her meeting, she waited anxiously with the four friends who accompanied her there. All they knew about the man they were about to meet was his name.
Inside the apartment, Adnan (last name withheld to protect the safety of his family overseas) sat nervously as well. He was wearing a Canadian jersey and had put out a spread of fruit and other snacks for his visitors.
When they finally met inside Adnan’s apartment, the two parties immediately established a good rapport, and within five minutes Dudley and her group had decided on the answer Adnan was desperately waiting to hear: yes. They would sponsor his sister’s family to come to Canada.
The ongoing humanitarian crisis that has seen millions of Syrians leave their country for the relative safety of neighbouring regions has played out for months in dreadful detail in media around the world.
But it was the photo of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi in the summer that spurred many to action, including Dudley and her group of fellow Lions Bay residents.
Informal discussions between friends turned into an organized meeting in the fall that attracted the interest of almost 30 residents of the small community, who all decided they wanted to help Syrian refugees in some way.
Although they made personal donations to relief organizations, the members of the group wanted to do more to aid displaced families and they wanted to have more of a personal connection to the effort. That’s when the idea of sponsoring a refugee family was suggested.
“It was a bit of a leap for everybody in the group,” says Dudley, who works with settlement services at the North Shore Multicultural Society.
As has happened on the North Shore in recent months, it is more common for a church or other established organization to sponsor refugees than it is for a group of private citizens to do so, but Dudley says the process is essentially the same.
The application is a bit more involved, however, as the members of the sponsoring group have to prove they are financially capable of providing support for one year, including housing, food and transportation expenses.
Five Lions Bay residents are officially listed on the application to bring Adnan’s sister and her family to Canada although more are involved in the overall settlement plan, and Dudley says they have received lots of support and positive feedback from their community.
The federal government sets a financial minimum sponsors must provide for incoming refugees, and although the Lions Bay group are prepared to foot the entire bill, they are hoping to fundraise at least $35,000 for the sponsorship. Dudley notes that’s a “bare bones budget” for a family to live on for one year, so they are also hoping to get donations of clothing and furniture.
Dudley’s work experience with the multicultural society’s settlement services has helped the process so far, and getting to know Adnan and his family also eased the group’s initial jitters about taking on such a commitment. Connecting with Adnan through MOSAIC, a Lower Mainland non-profit settlement organization, the Lions Bay group learned more about his family’s story when they met him in person.
Dudley says the fact that Adnan’s sister has three children under the age of three resonated with many of the parents in the group and was one of the reasons they chose her family to sponsor from a list of waiting refugees MOSAIC provided.
Adnan moved to Canada nine years ago before the war in Syria began and settled in Burnaby where he now lives with his wife and two children. The war in his home country forced the rest of his family to splinter, with his three siblings fleeing to different regions. His parents are still in Syria, in an area Adnan says has limited electricity and water, and experiences regular shootings and bombings.
His sister fled with her family to Iraq last year when ISIS advanced on their city. One brother is in Germany now, and Adnan was able to bring his other brother to Burnaby this month with the help of a Lower Mainland church. That process took a year and a half. The new Liberal government’s push to bring more Syrian refugees to Canada in recent months has helped speed up Adnan’s sister’s resettlement process, and both he and Dudley say they are optimistic the application will be approved and the siblings will soon be reunited. Although Dudley notes it is early in the process yet.
“It’s really scary. It’s really terrifying to see these people. I know how they live on (a) daily basis. It’s horrific,” Adnan says of watching the crisis in Syria unfold and knowing his family is in the middle of it. His sister and her family are now in a refugee camp where daily living is difficult.
“Living in a place where you don’t have opportunities for a job or can’t go to school it’s really hard,” he says. “I would like them to be in a safe place where their children can grow up and go to school and be a good participant in society.”
Adnan extends his gratitude to all the churches that have sponsored refugees, and to the Lions Bay residents sponsoring his family members.
“That’s really generous,” he says of the group’s efforts. “This is the way Canadians help the community and help each other.”
To find out how you can help the Lions Bay residents’ sponsorship drive, visit the website at ittakesavillagelionsbay.causevox.com.
Contact Rosalind Duane at firstname.lastname@example.org.