Welcoming Syrian refugees How a group banded together to help a refugee family

Kathryn Rambow is still dragging around that cold. There has been no time to recuperate. A refugee family—the first installment—arrives on the plane tomorrow.

Rambow, an Alberta Avenue resident, has been busy ensuring a two bedroom apartment is outfitted for a young family of four. Rambow is part of the Refugee Response Group, a few dozen people (some local) who connected to welcome Syrian refugees.

“We have proxy sponsorship from Roberston-Wesley United Church which helped a lot with the red tape as well as with the money end of things,” explained Rambow.

The group sponsored 12 family members. They’ve been expecting four members of the family since early January (the remainder of the extended family is in Lebanon getting medical clearance). Bad weather delayed the flight and then the eight-month pregnant wife couldn’t travel because she was too close to giving birth. Last week they received news the family was coming. It’s been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, said Rambow.

“We were so excited when we first got notice. Then disappointment when they were delayed. I even found myself feeling jealous when I would read about other groups who had received their families. Now of course, we are thrilled and stressed.”

Rambow said the group is in a Blended Visa Office-Referred program. The federal government covers the family’s basic expenses for six months of their first year, but the group covers the remaining six months and any additional support.

The group was able to raise $50,000 for the family of now 13 in less than three months from a variety of donations, such as bottle drives, bazaars, and individual donations.

She said “people have been amazing” in their response of the idea of bringing in a refugee family. “I continue to be astounded by the response. We haven’t met any negativity. And it seems that no sooner we envision a need than someone steps up to meet it. It has been a real exercise in faith and goodwill, that’s for sure. Edmonton is a great community. People can’t seem to do enough.”

The support doesn’t stop with sponsorship. New Canadian families in the apartment complex want to help. The group also has a resettlement committee, which includes a health team, a school team, and people to help with shopping and cooking.

“There are so many things for them to learn: how to ride the ETS, how to use an electric stove, where to find cultural and religious supports, how to dress for winter. And of course the real big thing is the language, which has to happen before they can even begin to think about working.”

Rambow isn’t sure if the family speaks English.

“This young couple that is coming tomorrow did complete high school and English and French were part of the curriculum. The phone contact that we have had to this point has had to be through an interpreter. We will work closely with Catholic Social Services and the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers who do the ESL programs as well as counselling.”

Rambow said the biggest challenge isn’t raising the money or getting public support, it’s the hurry up and wait aspect of welcoming the family. She added, “but we did it, and we are still doing it and will continue to do so long after our official year commitment ends.”

Aydan is a social worker, blogger, tango dancer, outdoor enthusiast and co-parent with Patricia to 8 children and 16 grandchildren. He’s also a resident of the ‘hood and loving it.

Aydan Dunnigan-Vickruck

Aydan Dunnigan-Vickruck

Aydan is a social worker, blogger, tango dancer, outdoor enthusiast and co-parent with Patricia to 8 children and 16 grandchildren. He’s also a resident of the 'hood and loving it.
Aydan Dunnigan-Vickruck

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