It has been nearly two years since a group from around St. Margaret’s Bay formed The Bay Refugee Project, an organization dedicated to helping Syrian families settle in our area. We launched the BRP with a sense of urgency and excitement, as well as trepidation - we knew very little about the sponsorship process, who we would be matched with, or how much going through the experience of sponsorship would change us.
The BRP launched quickly, and the Bay community would exceed our expectations at every turn; we could easily have furnished a dozen families with clothes and household goods! Individuals, groups, and businesses donated funds, time, services, and space, and we reached our fundraising goals in record time. And then we waited.
The sponsorship process is complex, and the government’s commitment to resettle 25,000 refugees in 2016 caused a long queue for processing. The BRP had identified a rental home in Hubbards, so while we waited for our sponsored families, we began assisting a recently-arrived Syrian family who were looking for a home in a rural area. The Zeina family is now well-established in Hubbards; Mr. Zeina is working in his field as a tiler, and their four children are thriving and enjoying school. Mrs. Zeina has impressed with her rapid acquisition of English.
After six months, the Al Badin and Barbar families finally arrived, settling into neighbouring homes in Tantallon. The arrival was thrilling and nerve-wracking, as neither the sponsors nor the families know what to expect. We tried to imagine how we would manage if we suddenly had to navigate a new country, language, home, food, and customs. Those first months were a steep learning curve for everyone, and a day rarely passed without a volunteer visiting, driving, making appointments, shopping, and helping with school and work.
We learned so much together. We felt heartache over everything that our friends had to leave behind, as well as joy at the arrival of a new baby born in Canada. We had to dig deep into our resources – there was always so much to consider, unexpected challenges, and wonderful moments of connection. Mr. Al Badin found a perfect home for his pastry skills at Julien’s Bakery, and the Najdat family are developing a love of the Canadian outdoors, learning to swim and fish. After a whirlwind year, and the families are now considering the next phase of their lives here, choosing their next homes and developing their career and education options. After years of uncertainty, new choices and a greater sense of peace can be shared between us, no longer as sponsors and sponsored, but as friends.
Emily King - Chair of Bay Refugee Project