The Port Alberni Refugee Sponsorship Committee is in full swing and is prepared to expect a family of seven from Syria any day.
After a successful “Welcome Shower” fundraiser on Sunday, Feb. 7, more home furnishings were secured, about $2,000 raised and almost 600 gift cards donated. Each guest was also encouraged to write a welcome note, which were put in red envelopes and will be shared with the family upon their arrival.
“I think the most precious thing, and the most important thing, was a (local) Arabic-speaking lady who was teaching the crowd Arabic,” said PARSC member, Pamela Day. “She was so articulate and I think she reduced some people’s fears about the issue.”
Day said that since the arrival of refugees to other communities lately and the ongoing public education, she is confident this family will be welcomed by residents of Port Alberni.
“You hear people in coffee shops and around town making comments, but I think most of it is ignorance. They are afraid of the unknown, but I think it will be okay.”
Of the 16 groups on the North Island, six have settled refugee families into their respective communities.
Day said her volunteers have learned from them and last Sunday had a chance to meet with other groups to share ideas and stories.
“Every day I receive emails with bits of information,” Day said. “We know when they get here they will be exhausted from the trip so our focus will be to first get them here, tuck them into bed and let them know they have a place to call home.”
The family, consisting of young parents and boys from 12 to one, will be equipped with a furnished rental, which has been getting last minute touch-ups. Most of the bedroom furniture was donated over the past couple of months and the kitchen needs were topped up through donations at the Welcome Shower.
“Right now we have a list of things needing to be done and we are running around at the last minute,” Day said.
The committee expects a call at any time letting them know the family is on the plane and set to arrive. The flight will leave from Beirut with an overnight stop in Toronto or Montreal. From there, they will fly to Vancouver and be picked up by committee members in Nanaimo.
Day said volunteers intend to give the new family time to adjust to their surroundings by providing a balance of support and time alone.
“They will wake up the next morning surprised by the mountains, trees and all the green,” she said.
Shortly after, the school-aged boys will attend classes and the parents will receive ESL assistance at Literacy Alberni.
“We have Arabic speakers on our team, so we are in good shape,” Day said. “There are Arabic- speaking children in town to help, and being young, kids pick up language quickly.”
To date, the PARSC has raised $28,500 of its $30,000-$35,000 goal and will support the family in Port Alberni for one year.
The committee hopes at some point to have a public welcome to show its appreciation for the donations and provide the family with an official homecoming.