Reuniting Syrian Families: Ottawa Sponsorship Group Crowdfunds to Sponsor Refugee’s SisterWritten by Muslim Link
The sponsorship group Refugee SOS were once strangers but they came together with one goal, reuniting a family torn apart by war. They are fundraising to reunite Zarah, a Syrian refugee to Canada, with her sister, who is still a refugee in the Middle East. Both sisters are single mothers. Muslim Link interviewed the group about why they chose to sponsor Zarah’s sister.
Why was it important for you to take on bringing in Zarah's sister instead of a refugee family that had no family in Canada?
We met at a Refugee 613 Sponsorship meeting in November 2015 where we heard Zarah’s appeal for help to sponsor her sister and niece. Others joined the group at subsequent meetings. We were ready to help in some capacity as volunteers, but not really as sponsors, but after listening to Zarah's appeal to us to help her family we felt compelled to become sponsors. We related to her desire to reunite with her family and to protect them.
For some, a past loss within the family due to violence helped us understand some of the terrible stresses that Zarah is experiencing. It was the personal contact with someone who is suffering that was so compelling. Those of us who were moved by her story decided to work as a sponsorship group even though none of us had even met before coming to this meeting. The story of Zarah's sister touched us deeply, and the fact that she has relatives in Canada will, we think, make it easier for her to adjust to life here.
We are deeply concerned about the refugee situation, the thousands of people who have fled from their homeland because of war and violence and are seeking a safe haven in other countries. We also feel concern for the host countries that are trying to help but have limited resources and space.
It is a huge responsibility for strangers to take on sponsoring a refugee family. What work have you done to get to know about each other and to improve how to work with each other?
We have had meetings and have talked about the best ways of working together.
A common desire to be compassionate in the face of human suffering has automatically brought our sponsorship group together. Everyone realized that we have an important humanitarian goal and we all have contributed to that goal in some valuable capacity. We all have respect for each other and how well we are working together. Our tech savvy members created a good system for us to communicate with each other. Reporting on progress, sharing info, and communicating well is very important.
What steps has your group taken to be able to bring Zarah's sister to Canada?
We first needed an understanding of the sponsorship process and we received an excellent start from the Refugee 613 workshops for sponsors. This information and support made it much easier to proceed. We gained more knowledge from the government Refugee Sponsorship Training site and the 'Guide to the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program'.
We opened a bank account for funds under the name Refugee SOS. Next we found a very responsive SAH (Sponsorship Agreement Holder) in the Jewish Family Services of Ottawa (JFS Ottawa). They held a very informative meeting with us to explain how we could partner with their expertise. At our next group meeting we decided to sign an agreement with JFS Ottawa which brought us under their legal umbrella and guidance for the applications required by the government. As they are a registered charity, donors to Refugee SOS on their refugee website will receive tax receipts.
All of this occurred during the months of November and December in which we held several organizational meetings and worked around the Christmas season. Meetings up to this point were organizational and then the focus shifted to fundraising. Some of our members created a Resettlement Plan for the refugees’ first year in Canada and that was handed in to JFS Ottawa. A volunteer created a letter to potential donors which we sent to our personal and work networks and a crowdfunding site was started. We are now waiting for this family to arrive in Jordan to be declared refugees and to begin the application process. Fundraising will be ongoing and when they arrive in Canada there will be much more work for us to do.
What are the particular challenges you are facing to bring Zarah's sister to Canada?
We have met some of the bigger challenges fairly easily. There have been a couple of very happy coincidences or divine interventions, if you wish. Housing for the first year was a gift and we have to be very grateful to the family who have opened their home to our two refugees. This has reduced what we need to raise for the year in which we are responsible for resettlement. For some of our members, they had to get up to speed with other modes of communicating. Texting never seemed important before! Building a relationship with someone who is Arabic-speaking is a new challenge for non-Arabic speakers, but very rewarding also.
What support do you need from readers?
We still need donations. The government requirement for two people is not enough for living in Ottawa. We will be looking for a dentist who would do work for just a little payment. Zarah’s sister is a single parent and will need work. We need other Syrian Muslims to create a support group for this family in Ottawa. They are going to need to talk with others who understand their tragedy.
For those of you who would like to donate, we have several options:
For online donations and updates please click here:
Donate on our GoFundMe Page here
If you want a tax receipt for your donation, you can donate here:
Cheques Payable to: JFS Ottawa. On the cheque write: For Refugee SOS
Send to Attn. Alla Mazor, Jewish Family Services of Ottawa
2255 Carling Ave. Suite 300
Online: Go to jfsottawa.com
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