The congregation of the Notre Dame Catholic Church is anxiously awaiting the arrival of its sponsored refugee family.
This is a second group working to bring a refugee family to the Alberni Valley From Syria.
Months of preparation and fundraising have led up to the pending arrival. The date is still unknown to organizers but they intend to welcome them with a warm homecoming within the next couple of months.
Of the two options provided by the government regulating sponsorship agreements, the church chose the Private Referral Sponsorship. It allows the group to choose a specific family, unlike the the Blended Visa Office Referral (BVOR), headed by the Port Alberni Refugee Society Committee, which will take in a family deemed most in need.
“We targeted a group of Catholic refugees presently in Lebanon, who are originally from Iraq or Syria, and have been displaced by the activities of ISIS,” said Mike O’Gorman, an active member of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul for 13 years.
One such refugee has close ties with members of the local Catholic church and is in contact with those currently looking to flee from the war-torn countries.
Father Karam, a government sponsored refugee, arrived in Canada in 2014. From Ontario he made his way to Victoria and, finally, to Oceanside where he was posted at Parksville’s Church of Ascension.
He left Iraq to a small village further north after his parish was gunned down and many of the parishioners murdered.
When he was forced to leave, he claimed refugee status in Lebanon, but is still in contact with those currently living under stressful conditions.
“We selected this family of four from a list that Father Karam drew up,” O’Gorman said. “We have been able to keep in contact because we have an Arabic speaker, Dr. Umran, in town to act as translator. Michelle (Fraser) has been Skyping with them so they will recognize her at the airport. They are really excited to come.”
The organizing committee has been making arrangements to provide the family with a community in which they can feel at home.
“We have enrolled both children in the [John Paul II] Catholic school so they will have a really nurturing environment,” O’Gorman said. “We have a community here so we can supply a better environment for a Christian family.”
Although anxious to arrive, the family is also leaving relatives behind. The young father, aged 31, has four brothers and one sister all in the same situation.
“There is a deep sadness because they know who they are leaving behind,” O’Gorman said.
“We are conscious of that and will do what we can in the future to help them reunite.”
While they await the arrival of the family, volunteers are making sure they have everything in place for an easy transition. That includes both donations of household items and cash. A “welcome board” has been set up at the entrance of the church, which is working well as a visual reminder.
“We have tags with household items pictured on them,” O’Gorman said. “Parishioners take one and return with that item. We pretty much have enough stuff in storage, but could use some more furniture.”
Currently at about $31,125 of a targeted $46,000 raised to support the family once they arrive, organizers are relying on an upcoming dinner to reach that goal. Set for Sunday, April, 3, a chicken and spaghetti feast, complete with a 50/50 draw and silent auction is the next opportunity for the community to help out. It will be held at the Notre Dame Parish Hall where tickets are available ahead of time.