After only forming a few short months ago, the Qualicum Refugee Sponsorship Group 2017 has been matched with a family.
The family of five, which includes three young children, are originally from Syria but have been living in Lebanon. The family is expected to arrive in Parksville Qualicum Beach in four to six weeks.
QRSG17 chair Terry Roberts said the family’s father, 33, has a farming and construction background and the mother, 28, was a nurse in Syria.
“Now what that translates to when they arrive here, we don’t know,” Roberts said. “The construction over there is different from the construction here. It may be that it won’t be transferrable to Canada, but we’re hoping that that’s not the case. If he can do construction, there’s lots of work right now.”
With the parents are their eight-year-old daughter, a four-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son.
The QRSG17, Roberts said, applied for a refugee family under the Blended Visa Office-Referred program, which matches refugees identified for resettlement by the United Nations Refugee Agency with private sponsors in Canada. Through the program, the Government of Canada gives up to six months of income support and the private sponsors give another six months of financial support, along with a year of social and emotional support.
Roberts said just a month ago, the newly formed group was told there weren’t that many refugees who were readily available to come to Canada.
“Then out of the blue came this family. We actually had (been matched) with one before, but just prior to this that it turned out that they wanted to live with a family in eastern Ontario,” said Roberts, who understands that it would’ve been easier for the first family to move in with familiar faces. “This family has no family in Canada, so they’re quite keen to come to Canada and they’re willing to go anywhere. They don’t know yet that this is one of the best places to be in Canada.”
Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns congratulated the QRSG17 in a written release, but also stated there is a backlog of private sponsorship applications, estimated at about 45,000. In his riding, there are four sponsorship groups that have been waiting nearly 18 months for refugee families, including one group in Parksville.
The entire family, Roberts said, speaks Arabic. Roberts said QRSG17’s main goal once the family arrives will be teaching them English.
“That is going to be a main focus of our efforts to integrate them into Canada. The kids will be fine. They’ll be going to school and preschool and kindergarten. Their minds are like sponges at that age for language,” Roberts said.
Roberts said there is language training available in Nanaimo, but he said the group may be able to set something up locally for the family.
However, Roberts said, the eldest daughter is learning French.
“That might be a little bit of a window if we can communicate in French and she can translate for the parents — that might help too,” said Roberts, adding the group is hoping to find people in the Parksville Qualicum Beach area who speak Arabic.
But the single greatest priority is finding housing for the family, Roberts said.
The QRSG17 has been looking around and has found a couple of leads, but there is nothing firm yet.
“We have a lot of work to do. I think we’re going to do it, and we’re determined to make their entry into Canada a positive experience for everyone.”
Initially, Roberts said, the group’s fundraising goal was $27,000.
“Part of that was a budgeted amount of $1,000 a month for rent which is totally inadequate for this market and probably for anywhere on Vancouver Island or the Lower Mainland. We’re looking at $40,000 is (now) what we need to support the family for a year.”
The group has now raised about $38,000 and has one more planned fundraiser left to go.
Song of Hope will feature the Phil Dwyer Quartet, Rosemary Lindsay and the VIU Jazz Choir and Gabriola Island artist Tina Jones. The concert is Sunday, Dec. 2 at 8 p.m. at Knox United Church (345 Pym St., Parksville). Tickets are $25 at The Source in Qualicum Beach and in Parksville at Cranky Dog Music, Parks West or Little Qualicum Cheeseworks.
For more information, visit www.qualicumrsg.org. To help with volunteering, donating household items, rental opportunities or English language lessons, contact Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org.