Donations on our web-based Chuffed page and donations through First United Church have now reached $40,884! Thank you to everyone who has already donated!
Refugee Sponsorship is our opportunity to draw the circle wide, even wider still, as the hymn goes, and to assist people who have been displaced, having had to flee their home country to escape war, persecution, or a natural disaster. The UNHCR estimates an astounding 80 million people were displaced worldwide in the year 2020. The need is great, staggering, in fact! And – we can play a part in action-based solutions when we support Refugee Sponsorship. The sponsorship process is so vitally important to offer supported time and opportunities for settlement, acclimation to a new language, culture, and life, and so much more!
Our church previously sponsored a family from Syria and is now in the process of sponsorship again. The unsafe and difficult living conditions still exist in Syria and affect many. In an effort to help those still in need of sponsorship and also for family reunification, we are now sponsoring family members of our dear Syrian friends, who recently became official Canadian citizens, 4 years post sponsorship. Being forced to flee one’s homeland – leaving everyone and everything, including your known language, culture, and way of life in exchange for safety, is something I personally cannot imagine living through. The thought of perhaps never seeing my family ever again is devastating. The importance of this family reunification cannot be overstated, not only for the family of refugees that we will be sponsoring but also for their relatives that now reside here in Canada. Caring loving friends are a blessing and very necessary in beginning again, but nothing compares to family members with shared experiences, cultural and religious backgrounds, and the bond of having grown up together.
I, Amy Popick, am returning as Chair and can safely speak for our first working group in saying that being a part of the final chapter of our refugee family’s journey through sponsorship was beyond anything we could have imagined. Witnessing and walking alongside our friends the Etmehs as they built a new life, learned a new language and customs – watching the dedication, resilience, strength and so much more – is without a doubt one of the richest and most impactful experiences I have had. We are excited to be in the process of this next sponsorship and to support family reunification as we do! Our other working group members are Marie Andrews, Heba Anouz, Janet Keene, Anika Henderson, Faris Sadden, Annette Taylor, Linda Stumpf, Marilyn Durrant, Catherine Christie, and Maxine Olmsted.
In response to the needs of refugees on a global level, First United Church launched a Refugee Sponsorship Program to bring a family in need to our community. In 2015, the Outreach committee was in dialogue with The United Church of Canada and the Calvary United Church in Prince Albert, to learn about the process and what steps need to be followed in such a complex undertaking.
In October 2015, the sponsorship idea was presented to our congregation and a vote decided overwhelmingly in favour of bringing a refugee family to Swift Current.
A refugee sponsorship working group was formed and they began their work in the late fall. A fundraising campaign began and the kick-off event of a Silent Auction & Supper was held on January 30th, 2016. This was a very successful event with about 150 people in attendance, over 100 items in the auction. Thanks to all the volunteers who worked diligently to make this event happen!
The government estimates that living expenses for a refugee family of four are about $20,000 a year. Under the federal program, the government pays for approximately half of these costs. Additional set-up expenses are in the range of $7000. Through the generosity of the First United congregation and our community we were able to raise $31,000 over the past year and a half!
While there has been a great deal of attention to the plight of Syrian refugees in particular, First United was open to a family from anywhere in the world. But when we received the list of refugees from The United Church of Canada, it was filled with families from Syria.
We were thrilled to welcome a Syrian family to our community on Monday, February 8, 2016. This happened with very little notice, and the volunteers on our Refugee Sponsorship Working Group worked very quickly to prepare for their arrival. In a short time an apartment was secured, cleaned and filled with all of things the family will need to settle into their new lives. A big thank you to all of the volunteers who helped to move this forward with such care and such speed!
Our Refugee Sponsorship Working Group was very busy supporting the Etmeh family (Anas, Heba, Shahed and Mohammed) as they began a new stage of their life in Swift Current. Thanks to all the volunteers who: helped with paperwork and finances, provided interpretation, tutored English, drove the family to appointments, babysat the children and organized their medical needs.
On Sunday, May 15 2016, our congregation officially welcomed the Etmeh’s to our community with a special Interfaith worship service and a pot luck lunch. We are very grateful to Bashar Sayyed, a member of the local mosque, who gave us a very informative presentation on the Muslim faith. Here is the video local Overtime Communications put together to showcase the event:
The Etmeh family, the Outreach Committee and the Refugee Working Group would like to offer our sincere thanks to the First United Church congregation for their overwhelming support, generosity and involvement throughout the sponsorship process over the past year and a half.
Countless volunteer hours, donations of funds, in kind donations, fundraisers and partnerships with community organizations such as Southwest Newcomer Centre, Great Plains College, Swift Current Library and more, all came together to encourage, empower and embrace the Etmeh’s as they journeyed through the process of successfully integrating into Canadian culture and life in this great community of Swift Current!