Kelowna residents keep working to provide new life to Syrian refugees

Their latest accomplishment is lining up vehicles for the families that have arrived.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.

It’s starting to look like it takes a city of humanitarian-minded Kelowna residents to help refugee families build a new life in the Okanagan.

Luckily, they’re in ample supply.

Keith Germaine is among a growing army of volunteers helping Syrian refugees put down roots in the area. He’s been doing his share through the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nelson, which has sponsored a number of families, and that has led him to help with everything from housing to job hunting.

His latest accomplishment is being part of the effort to line up vehicles for the families that have arrived.

“As you can imagine, it’s difficult for volunteers to move these families around,” he said, noting that some of Kelowna’s new residents have upwards of six family members, the majority of which require car seats.

“Volunteers will use these vans for driving around the families, until (the refugees) get their licences, and then they’ll take possession.”

Transportation, he explained, will be key to their integration.

One of the first new Okanaganites sponsored by the Catholic church to get a vehicle was the five-person Al Lwisi family, which has made Oliver home.

They got their new wheels when a family that moved to Kelowna as refugees in 1995 from Kosovo, during its crisis, contacted Germaine to say they had a van available for donation.

It needed transmission help, so Germaine then went about contacting as many shops specializing in transmissions as he could, but only one responded.

Todd Maleschok, of Mountain Transmission, had been looking for a way to give back to the community, and donated the $1,500 in labour needed to get the van up to snuff.

“Now (the Al Lwisi family) has been able to get a job,” said Germaine, noting they’ve had no problem thus far finding work for the refugee families that have moved to the Okanagan, but transportation is a bit of a stumbling block.

Mountain Transmission didn’t stop at that project.

They followed up with diagnostic work on another van and are open to more opportunities, should someone else have a donation.

Also doing a great deal of work is Tony Diemand, from Car Craft, a mechanics shop on Windsor Road that has giving-back-to-the -community as part of its mandate.

His employees have donated their time to completely restore a Dodge Caravan and Pontiac Montana that were donated by customers.

Total man-hours rang in at around $8,000. And for parts he reached out to Lordco for help.

Shaun Wheater, the manager, anted up around $4,000 in supplies. GoTire donated the detailing services and NTE gave a set of tires. Now two families will have a safe way to get around.

To his mind the effort is well worth it.

It demonstrates to the new residents that they’re part of a network, and that, he said, will be key to their success going forward.

“They know the community is there for them,” Diemand said.

Germaine said the strength and generosity of this community is something he’s been heartened by since families started arriving.

“This is the first time I’ve seen the faith community coming together,” Germaine said.

“Muslims, Sikhs, Mormons, Evangelicals, Catholics, Lutherans…everybody is coming together for these people.

“People are people, and it doesn’t matter what faith they are, we know we can make a difference if we can work together—and we are.”

There are at least 10 vans needed. Anyone who has a van they’d like to donate, call Wheater at 778-478-1520 or Diemand at 250-860-7444.

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