UPDATE OCTOBER 2017
It has been 6 months to the day since the Bakhits – Muna and Khaled, Walid (10), Riham (7), Hamza (5), and baby Wissam (just turned one) – arrived in Canada, an exhausted and confused refugee family, coming to a country that they did not know, leaving behind friends and loved ones in both Lebanon and Syria.
The changes since then have been incredible and here are some of the things that have happened and that they have done in the last six months:
· The children – Walid, Riham, and Hamza are all again attending Lincoln Centennial School and have made friends with children in their class.
· Muna and Khaled have returned to ESL classes at the Multicultural Centre while little Wissam goes to day care at the centre.
· Khaled and Walid both have bicycles and go regularly to the local Freshco to do the groceries.
· In August the three older children attended the Walker family YMCA day camp for a week in Burgoyne Wood. First day they were shy and reluctant to leave home, last day there were good-bye hugs for all the counselors.
· The children have all had their teeth checked and cavities filled thanks to the Healthy Smiles programme.
· Khaled applied for and received his learner’s driver’s permit and is learning to drive with the help of his Syrian friends.
· Wissam is learning to walk.
· The Bakhits observed Ramadan and celebrated Eid.
· The family celebrated, with some of our committee, Syrian Day at the Folk Arts Centre.
At our committee meeting last week we all agreed how pleased we were that the Bakhits have made friends, figured out the intricacies of bank accounts and Canadian currency, can do their own shopping, have mastered the St. Catharines bus system and are becoming more and more independent and integrated. All remarkable achievements for a family who fled war-torn Syria and came here with nothing, not speaking a word of English. We are so very proud of them all.
Our focus for the next few months will be helping them improve their English and then looking for a job for Khaled. We will keep you informed of their progress.
With best wishes,
Marilyn, Debi, Heather, Don, Jim, Michael and Virginia
UPDATE JUNE 2017
Dear friends, writes Virginia Mainprize. The last communication that you had from us about the Bakhit family told you of their arrival in Canada on 16 March. Very soon after that, Jamie and I left for a long and long-planned for holiday in Alsace, leaving all the work of settling the family into their new home and city to the rest of our small committee and to a few other generous members of the Niagara on the Lake community.
Jamie and I have returned to Niagara and I am happy to report to you, kind sponsors of the Bakhits, that they are settling in remarkably well. Much has been done since they arrived.
Within a few days, the three school age children, Walid, Riham and Hamza were attending local school, and within a few weeks the family had learned how to manoeuver the St Catharine’s public transit system, been shown where and how to shop for the best deals in groceries and other household items, a bank account had been set up and they learned how to use debit cards. Within a little over a month they had moved from their temporary and rather unsuitable living quarters to a beautiful and comfortable house (with a garden) on Niagara Street. The parents, Khaled and Muna, had been registered for and begun to attend English classes at the Multicultural Centre, where there is good day care for baby Wissam. A multitude of government documents had been filed and doctors and dentists had been arranged for both parents and children.
Our committee of Debi and Marilyn and Heather and Don have worked hard to help the Bakhits settle in as rapidly and effortlessly as possible. They were especially helped by some honorary members of the committee, Jim Reynolds, a retired teacher and principal in St Catharines who looked after arranging accommodation for the family and also schooling for the children, and Michael Fox who has looked after financial matters for our committee and now for the Bakhits and who with his wife Beckie has shown them first hand the complexities of supermarket shopping in an unknown currency and language.
Within less than two months after their arrival, I am happy to report that the Bakhits are settling in amazingly and are well on the road to being independent and self-reliant. This is the aim of our committee – although we are here to help them whenever they need us and we hope that the friendship that has developed between us and them will continue for years to come.
This is a very brief and rather dry summary of what has happened in the last two months, so I have asked each of our committee to give you one of their impressions.
Thank you so very much for making this happy story possible. We have waited long for this to happen but it was worth the wait for us all and, I know, for the Bakhits.
With best wishes: Virginia, Marilyn, Debi, Heather and Don
Pat and I took the children to school on their first day and were impressed by their courage, confidence and obvious happiness as they entered a building filled with people their own age. They were quickly paired up with new friends and strolled away from us into a new language and a whole new world.
Moving Day, by Marilyn Shepherd
This was a day of great excitement and total exhaustion! The family packed up the entire contents of their apartment and were ready for the movers by 8 am as well as getting 3 children onto the school bus with lunches packed.
The house is large, and full of light which was high on the wish list. It has a big back yard and is in the same general area of North St. Catharines so all the services they had grown accustomed to remained the same.
It is not unusual now to find their new friends (another Syrian family who arrived a year ago) at the house, the men and Walid talking together, the little children clambering around the older “grandfather” and the women happily chatting and cooking together in the kitchen. One gets a glimpse of how life was lived with extended family close by offering companionship and help.
Their New House, by Michael Fox
The first time the Bakhit family visited the new house before moving in.
A Chance Encounter, by Heather Doyle
My excitement happened on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in early April when Debi and I were returning from St. Catharines. We were driving along the canal parkway when we spotted the Bakhit family strolling along the walkway. It was a moment of excitement when we realized they were out exploring their neighbourhood on their own. We honked the horn and drove to a parking lot where we joined them for a half hour of playing with the children and walking alongside a huge laker that was making its way to the next lock.
Niagara Falls, by Debi Goodwin
When the family saw Niagara Falls they were thrilled. Khaled’s first reaction was to take video to send home to his family and Muna was struck by the people who had come from all around the world to see the sight. The children enjoyed running through the park and staring at the falling water through the railing. It was their first big outing in Canada and they were very grateful for it. At one point, Muna pulled out apples and small meat delicacies she had made with new Syrian friends to share with Heather and me. They were delicious. And we all sat eating the picnic by the roar of the falls.
Pot Luck Welcome Supper, by Don MacLeod
On Friday, May 5th, a pot luck supper with a Canadiana theme was held for the Bakhit family in Addison Hall. It was our first opportunity to welcome them to the community of Niagara-on-the-Lake and for them to meet the larger support group that has worked so hard to establish them in their new home and new lives in St. Catharines.
UPDATE MARCH 2017
Finally, after over a year and a half of waiting, first for Faydalla and family who are still waiting in Turkey for clearance to come to Canada, and then for another family, we have had news that the Bakhits – father and mother and their four young children – will be arriving in Toronto on March 16.
In many ways, we are ready for them; we have all the furniture and household goods that we have put in storage, we have recently collected children’s clothes, toys and books, and baby equipment – but we had no place for them to live. Housing in St Catharines is more and more difficult and more and more expensive to find. However, one of our volunteers, Jim Reynolds, has worked tirelessly over the last months investigating apartment availability in St Catharines. Miraculously he has found a reasonably priced and well-located three-bedroom apartment that is available this Monday. With the support of a small group of very dedicated volunteers, we will move in and be ready for the family when they arrive on Thursday after a long flight from Beirut via Cairo.
This is very thrilling for us but more so for this family of 6 whom we are about to welcome into their new life in Canada. We will keep you informed of what happens next.
Thank you for all you interest and support over the last many months
I am sending you photos that the Bakhits sent us of their family.
Virginia Mainprize, Marilyn Shepherd, Heather Doyle, Debi Goodwin, Don MacLeod, Niagara on the Lake Syrian Refugee Project
Syrian Refugees update – January 2017
In January 2016, the St Mark’s component of the Niagara on the Lake Syrian Refugee Project received notice that the Syrian family we had chosen to sponsor would be arriving in Canada imminently. The family, who is waiting in Turkey, where they have been for three years, was told even earlier that they would be coming to Canada within a few weeks.
Our group quickly rented a three-bedroom apartment in St Catharines in February, furnished it, collected clothes and stocked it with basic food supplies. Since then we have waited, and neither we nor our family has received any news. Finally in August, we sadly and reluctantly cancelled our lease and packed up and moved all the furniture, clothes and household goods into storage. In the meantime we are in regular contact with our family, by both email and Skype.
In late August, we, and other Blended Visa Officer Referred sponsoring groups that are still waiting for their families, were notified we would be given the opportunity to sponsor an alternate family. This is part of the letter that was sent to groups whose refugee families have not yet arrived.
This is regarding a number of delayed Blended Visa Office Referred (BVOR) cases. As you are aware, the delays were in large part due to the fact that cases were made available to sponsors prior to the finalization of eligibility, medical, and security decisions to meet the demand from sponsors at that time and to have them included in the initiative to resettle 25,000 Syrians by the end of February 2016. We understand that the delays have been disappointing for some private sponsors and regret the challenges that we know this caused for many. As a special exception given the pace and volume of the Syrian initiative, we will begin offering replacement cases in the coming weeks to those sponsors that have been impacted by these delays.
It now seems that when we and our family were told that they would be arriving in Canada last February, some members of the family had not had all their clearances completed. And they are still incomplete.
So the government offered us the option of continuing to sponsor our original family, whose clearance may take much more time to complete, or they may never be admissible, or of sponsoring another family. However, the original family will have the opportunity – if and when their clearance is completed – to come to Canada as Government Assisted Refugees (GAR) with their expenses covered by the government for a year. There is no option for us to sponsor both cases.
Our steering committee debated whether or not we would agree to support another family; it was a terrible dilemma – we knew that we had a responsibility to our donors but also felt that we were abandoning our family with whom we had established a personal relationship. After much thought and deliberation, we decided that we would sponsor a new family.
In mid-October, Scott McLeod at the Diocese of Niagara – our agreement holder – received notification that an offer of sponsoring another family would be forthcoming. We told him we would accept. Just before Christmas we signed the papers to sponsor a young family of six with two parents and four young children ranging in age from nine years to a few months. They are Syrian and waiting in Lebanon. We have been told only that they will arrive within a couple of months.
As soon as we know when they will be arriving, we will rent another apartment, take our furniture out of storage, and create a new home for this young family. Some of their needs will be very different from our first family’s – car seats, cribs, highchairs, and all the paraphernalia associated with young children. We will ask the community for donations before we buy this equipment.
In mid-January, Father Scott McLeod, and Debi Goodwin and Virginia Mainprize from our steering committee, contacted our original family by Skype to tell them that their application to come to Canada has still not been finalized and that when it is, they will be coming to Canada as government-sponsored refugees (GAR) and could be settled anywhere in Canada. We also told them we will make every effort to find them support in the community where they will be settled.
There are still thousands of other Syrian families whose applications have been finalized, or are in process, who are still waiting to come to Canada. (http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/refugees/welcome/milestones.asp). It is horrible to think that our family has been waiting in Turkey for three-and-a-half years, hoping every day that they may hear when they will come to Canada. Amazingly, they continue to be positive and hopeful. We will continue to be in regular contact with them by email and by Skype.
Our committee thanks you for your continued support of and interest in this project.
Virginia Mainprize and Marilyn Shepherd – chair and co-chair of the committee; Debi Goodwin, Don MacLeod and Heather Doyle – members of the committee.