Early in 2016 McDougall’s team partnered with three other United churches to sponsor a Syrian refugee family. Our formal support began Feb. 6 2016 when we met the family at the airport and ended in June 2017. These 17 months were busy ones, filled with joy, laughter and at times incredulity, as we navigated customs and beliefs so different from our own. Our team probably learned as much as the family did and we felt fortunate that we had such a wonderful family we could call “our’s”. Our support formally ended when, after discussions, the family and the team agreed that they were ready to be on their own.
Since June, some of us have stayed in touch with the family, responding to calls for occasional assistance, but more as friends. Our team met in October to discuss what we had learned from the project and to develop some principles to guide us in selecting our next family. Here they are:
Our primary interest is in providing personal and direct support to refugees. At this point our support will be directed to GARS (government assisted refugees) who are in Calgary.
We are an action-oriented group. Our primary focus is to have personal contact with members of the refugee families we support. We do not wish to limit our initiatives to merely providing ad hoc financial support.
We will build on our previous experience. The family’s characteristics (level of English, size, country of origin, rural vs. urban) determine the amount and nature of support required. Next time we would prefer to support another family from the Middle East and to work with a family that has some English.
We want to work independently rather than partner with another organization to simplify communications and decision making. We currently have sufficient funding.
We will take advantage of our knowledge of Calgary institutions – health, settlement agencies, school systems, transportation, City of Calgary services, etc.
We will demonstrate respect for the families we support through our actions. We recognize that it is essential to build relationships and trust.
Our goal in supporting newly arrived refugees is to help them become self-sufficient and transition from support to family friend.
This is the group that will make decisions about refugee initiatives at McDougall.
We have contacted the Centre for Newcomers to ask for their help finding a new refugee family that is struggling. Our experience demonstrates how rewarding and fun it is to work with new immigrants and with team members who share your commitment and passions. If you think this is something that might interest you, please contact McDougall United Church.