The logistics of compassion

April 12, 2017

The MacEwan Community Refugee Project welcomes two families from Syria

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In late 2015, when the Syrian refugee crisis was reaching a critical point, a call went out to MacEwan University staff and faculty to come together to help in any way possible. People from across the university responded, and soon the MacEwan Community Refugee Project (MCRP) had assembled with the goal of bringing two Syrian families to Canada.

Both families have now arrived. Roy and Samar and their two children arrived in December 2016, while Amer and Einas and with their three children landed just this week. Their arrivals were emotional moments, for the families themselves and for the MCRP members who spent more than a year working tirelessly behind the scenes to make possible a new life in Canada for the families.

Three MCRP members, Kathaleen Quinn, Kathleen Hall and Meghan McKinnie provided a breakdown of how the process came together behind the scenes, and what’s next for the families.

A group effort

Once the MCRP was established, areas of responsibility were divvied up. “That’s why you need a whole team,” explains Kathaleen, director of the School of Social Work. “We’re all playing a role, and whatever your skill set is determines what responsibilities you’re connected to.”

“There’s a person for each area,” says Meghan, manager of Education Abroad. “I’m responsible for education and employment. Kathleen is responsible for arrival, so getting the families settled in their home and getting all the paperwork done. There’s someone responsible for health and wellness, someone for budgeting and housing. Then we call on the larger committee to help us with pieces as needed.”

It’s not just the MCRP that has come together to create a new life for these families. Members of the community have pitched in as well. “We’ve had supportive partners on our side,” says Meghan. “For example, last February we had already rented an apartment for the first family and the first 12 months of rent were donated by the apartment company. But because the family was delayed by a year, they’ve agreed to give us another 12 months of free rent. So with the support of the community, we can make this happen.”

Curveballs

Of course, a process like this is not without its snags. Before being cleared to come to Canada, both families were regularly on the move, looking for a stable short-term place to stay. This means that at times contact was lost.

“One of the families was easy to keep in touch with because they were always very active on Facebook,” says Meghan. “But with the other family, it hasn’t been as easy. We’ve had to do a lot of work with the minister’s office to try to push things along and get more information about where they are in the process. Fortunately there have been very supportive people in government who are trying to make this happen as well.”

Both families were met with frustrating delays along the way, often as a result of bureaucratic challenges or logistical complications. But Amer and Einas’s final delay came with a sweet upside. “They added another baby to their family so we had to find a crib and do a few adjustments, and they had to wait until the baby was old enough to fly,” explains Kathleen, a writing and learning consultant with Student Affairs.

Just the beginning

Both families have arrived safely at their destination, but their journeys are only just beginning. They are now focused on learning the rhythms of Canadian life, and though they have the support of MCRP, both families are determined to be independent. “I think there’s a big misconception that sponsored refugees have everything done for them, but that is not what we do,” says Kathleen. “Our goal is to facilitate and to help them access the information they need, but they make the decisions for themselves.”

Even when the families are fully settled in and no longer need the support of MCRP to help them navigate their new country, they will still have the bond of friendship to keep them connected. “This is a gift to us, to have these families come and be part of our lives.” says Kathaleen. “So it’s not a charity model where we are doing all the giving. Already these families are part of our community.”


If you’d like to help the families get settled in, donations of cash and household items are still being accepted.


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