As-salaam-alaikum. Peace be upon all of you. And thank you for coming.
I wanted to share with you an ongoing tale: of frustration, of first positive steps, and of hopeful plans.
Over the past year or so, I have been increasingly frustrated with the lack of action in the face one of the great humanitarian catastrophes of my life time – one which has been ongoing for some four years now. Frustrated, let me say, not just with Stephen Harper’s conservative government, but also with too little pressure from the main opposition parties. I have fumed about it on Facebook, increasingly so over the last months.
About two weeks ago, my good friend Wendy Pearson said to me: “Let’s stop complaining about them. We should do something ourselves”. That night, I started to look into sponsoring refugees under the Group of Five program – joined by a bunch of concerned friends on Facebook, many of them at Western. (Our pro tem name is “Western Ontario Friends of Refugees”.)
Even learning about the process was filled with obstacles. So many forms, so many different paths to pursue, no one clearing house of information, no “help lines”. In fact, I am still trying to sort it all out.
The first positive steps arose, paradoxically, out of the tragic drowning of the Kurdi boys and their mother. Photos of lifeless Alan led to a massive increase in the flow of information, and the level of community and political interest. Our small Facebook-based group got larger. I was able to make contacts with like-minded faith-based and community groups.
This takes me to the next positive steps. Right now we are raising funds – in conjunction with the Rev. Jeff Crittenden of Metropolitan United Church, on Wellington St., two local mosques, and the Mayor’s office. We plan to collect about a quarter of a million dollars locally, enough to bring ten or so families to London. (You can make your donations at Libro Credit Union. You can also do so at the Metropolitan United Church. Annotate your check with the words “Syrian Appeal” and they will issue a tax receipt in February.)
The next stage is to welcome the families to London. At that point, we will require help of many different sorts. Even if you cannot afford to contribute a dime, in-kind donations – of clothing, furniture, a place to stay – will lower the amount we need to collect to bring a family here. Most importantly, we will need your time and energy. There is plenty to do. Volunteers are required to help with:
• welcoming the families on the first days, and offering continuing emotional and moral support;
• translation, since many new arrivals will not be fluent in English;
• temporary housing upon arrival;
• finding long term housing;
• setting up utilities, bank accounts, etc.;
• orientation to daily life in London (e.g., transit, budgeting, grocery shopping);
• immediate and long-term child care;
• applying for jobs;
• filling out a world of forms (health care, taxes, SIN, etc.);
• enrollment in schools and English classes;
• dental and medical care.
I will end with another word about what we can all do right now, namely apply political pressure. The process has to be made easier: it needs to be consolidated, simplified, and publicized more effectively. Governments should facilitate those who want to help; our Federal government has obfuscated. At a minimum, they need to get out of the way. And there is a daunting bottleneck that must be overcome. I learned today on a Webinar that only 156 Syrians have been “referred” via the Blended Visa-Office process to date. We cannot sponsor families here in London in a timely way if the visa offices do not make refugees available for sponsorship.
In sum, donate now; speak out now; and talk to me about volunteering down the road.