That was the reaction members of the Salmon Arm Community Refugee Sponsorship Group had when asked if they were interested in supporting another Syrian refugee family – the city’s 10th.
Group member Don Derby, who donates to the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR), was asked if Salmon Arm was interested in supporting one of 1,500 “urgent-need” families identified in the federal government’s Blended Visa Office Referred (BVOR) program about six weeks ago.
Even though the group has already sponsored the Zakreet family who came as three separate but linked BVOR files, Derby mentioned it to his wife, Cindy Derkaz, and the two immediately agreed to approach other members of the group.
Why not? responded Kari Dukeshire when she got the call. She phoned Joyce Henderson, who also said “why not?”
Within 12 hours of writing UNHCR to ask for more information, the head office of The United Church of Canada asked if the group could take a family – fast.
“We said yes, but let us get organized,” says Dukeshire, noting it only took a week to mobilize the local group that welcomed the Zakreet family, with several members of other groups also hopping onboard to help the Qabours – father Tareq, sons Mohammad and Mahmoud, daughter Huda and mother Rasha Kabour.
“Somehow in the space of a week, their place was cleaned and furnished by many generous donors and volunteers, the Churches Thrift Shop gifted a shopping spree, phones were activated, the boys joined street soccer and started school, Huda went to Strong Start, ESL classes were arranged for Tareq and Rasha to list only some of what volunteers and the family accomplished,” Dukeshire says.
As with the Zakreets, this BVOR program provides government assistance for six months, and sponsors provide start-up costs and assistance for the remaining six months. Because this program is not scheduled to carry over into 2019, and sponsors seem to be in short supply on short notice, Jewish Family Services, the Shapiro Foundation and an anonymous donor, administered by University of Ottawa’s Refugee Hub, set up a fund to make it easier for potential sponsors to step up.
“We applied and were immediately granted start-up costs and six months’ support by Jewish Family Services Ottawa, for which we are very grateful,” Dukeshire says. “We just received all of nine days’ notice of the Qabours’ arrival.”
On Sept. 26 the family arrived and is settling into life in Salmon Arm. An ‘urgent-need’ family could have been from anywhere in the world, but Dukeshire says Salmon Arm is “on the map” as having welcomed several Syrian refugee families.
Originally from Damascus, the Qabours fled from Daraa in Syria, about 13 kilometres north of Jordan and a rebel stronghold until the Syrian army retook the city in July of this year.
The family spent five-and-a-half difficult years in Jordan where father, Tareq, worked 13 hours a day repairing and selling shoes in order to support his wife Rasha Kabour, sons Mohammad, seven, Mahmoud, who is six, and three-year-old daughter Huda.
Acting as translator, Abdel Zakreet, younger brother of the community’s first Syrian refugee, Mustafa, explains life for the Qabours was made more difficult by the fact the Syrians are hated in Jordan, where there are millions of refugees.
The family was overjoyed in May to hear they were finally going to be able to go to a new home, with several months of interviews and medical tests ensuing.
No translation is needed to see Tareq’s joyful enthusiasm when Abdel asks him what he dreams of for himself and his family in their new life in Canada.
“Learn English fast and get a good education for the children so they can have a good future,” he tells Abdel, with a wide smile.
Delighted to know there were already other Syrian families in Salmon Arm, Tareq, who worked his way up to managing a thread company in Damascus, has been talking to some of the other men and is hoping to join them in working as a custodian, or perhaps bus driver, for the school district.
In the meantime, support for the family is being offered by the other refugee families as well as the refugee sponsorship group.
Mustafa is now attending university in Kelowna and met the Qabours at the airport there to welcome them and act as translator.
“Many people donated many things and the Churches Thrift Shop gave them a one-day shopping spree,” says Dukeshire, noting refugees now have to pay for their own flights, which can mean a repayment fee of $300 a month for five years. “In this case, someone came forward and donated it.”
She says dental care is a huge issue for most refugees as they have often spend many years without care and cannot afford to get it even when they settle in Canada.
Another need Dukeshire highlights is a working vehicle.
“They’re big things,” she acknowledges.
As well as Mustafa, the Salmon Arm Community Refugee Sponsorship Group has sponsored his brother, Ahmad and Fatima and family, and Mustafa’s father, Mohammed, and brother Abdel.
Members of the group have agreed to sponsor Mustafa’s brother, Khaled, his wife and children, who have been approved to come to Canada, but remain in Lebanon. The sponsorship group believed they would be the next to arrive when they got the urgent request.
Dukeshire says they are hoping that moment comes soon.
Anyone who would like to help the Qabours access dental care or acquire an affordable vehicle is asked to email Kari Dukeshire at email@example.com. Meanwhile, a “Can we do it again?” meeting will be held at First United Church from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.on Saturday, Oct. 27, to see if there is interest in helping to assist more refugee families.