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CAiRN encouraged by community support  

It began as a tiny group meeting at Pictou United Church but it quickly spilled through the church walls into the community and there is no telling where it will stop.

CAiRN (Communities Assisting Refugees Now) members Nicole MacKenzie, left, Donna Collins and Anna Marie Galvin pose with a banner promoting the Celtic Tenors concert and gala at the deCoste Centre Tuesday night. The concert opens the deCoste's spring programming and the gala is a fundraiser to jointly assist CAiRN and Pictou County Safe Harbour in their efforts to settle Syrian refugees in Pictou County. (Rosalie MacEachern photo)

That is how executive members of CAiRN (Communities Assisting Refugees Now) describe the momentum of their efforts to help Syrian refugees.

“In the beginning, we seriously wondered if we, in our little group, could actually bring a refugee family to Pictou County,” admitted Nicole MacKenzie.

As the group began to grow, Donna Collins was encouraged by the support, but still wondered if they could raise enough money in time to meet the federal government’s schedule.

“I never imagined we’d reach our $27,000 goal in such a short time and we’ve since exceeded it,” she said.

MacKenzie, Collins and another executive member, Anna Marie Galvin, were among those to personally welcome their family to Canada and settle them into a home in Pictou last week.

“We all took a leap of faith and every time we hit a challenge, it seemed there was a God-sent solution,” said Collins.

By a chance encounter in Halifax, Collins learned of a Pictou resident who spoke Arabic and Ahmed Nassrat, who works for Sobeys, quickly agreed to act as translator when the family arrived.

First the family’s travel plan stalled and then Nassrat had to fly to Egypt because his grandmother was ill. The CAiRN group was not overly concerned until Rev. Mary Beth Moriarty made a regular call to check on the family’s status and learned they were already in the air.

“Ahmed’s father Amr and his friend Omar El Kallini from Halifax stepped in to help us. They met us at the airport to welcome the family and then drove to Pictou with us to settle them into their new home.”

On the way back to Halifax in the early morning hours, they met Nassrat’s flight from Egypt and assured him all was well with the newly-arrived Casim family of Pictou.  

“They had a long night, but we are so grateful for all their help, right down to taping Arabic instructions on the washer and dryer,” said Collins.

Abdulkadar and Lema Casim and their two children left their refugee camp in Turkey and went first to Jordan where they boarded a flight for Montreal and then later to Halifax. In Montreal, they were given warm winter jackets, including a bright blue and green one that delighted six year-old Omer.

“When he got to the house, he was still so pleased with it he didn’t want to take it off,” said MacKenzie.

She added he was overjoyed with the toys he found.

“At first I’m not sure he understood the toys were all for him and his to keep. Seeing him so happy and excited was incredible.”

Omer is anxious to get to school to meet new friends but Galvin, who has some background with settlement programs, said Chignecto-Central Regional School Board has a process for familiarizing parents and students with the school system.

“Everything has to happen gradually and our first job is dealing with all the basic logistics of helping the family. There are care and wellness issues and service providers to connect with. There are things that had to be addressed in week one and a new list for week two and we have to keep in mind this family needs rest and time to adjust.”

Collins said they understood from their translators the Casims arrived with very little idea what awaited them.

“We know they came with a lot of anxiety around finances. We hope they have been reassured that is not something they have to worry about right now. Just learning English is the first challenge and as someone who has never learned a second language, I consider that a big challenge.”

All three women were encouraged by how much they were able to share with the family through gestures and a few phrases at their initial meetings.

“For the simple things, it is less difficult than we thought it would be. We were able to welcome them and they were able to tell us how grateful they are to be welcomed. For the more complicated things, we’re relying on Arabic speakers in the community who are being very generous with us,” said Collins.

Fundraising is ongoing, including a gala at the deCoste Centre tomorrow night, which coincides with the beginning of spring programming.  

“The deCoste Centre came to us and Pictou County Safe Harbour with an offer to help and we’re really excited about this event. People will be able to make donations, enjoy the wine, food and great entertainment,” said Collins.

MacKenzie noted ongoing fundraising is important because the group’s initial budget was based on outdated figures provided by the federal government.

“They were based on 2007 costs, so we’ve had to make adjustments to reflect actual costs today,” she said.

Collins pointed out they have barely begun getting to know the family.

“They may have needs we don’t even know about yet. They may have other family members who want to come to Canada and if we have the ability, we’ll try to help. Our commitment is long-term.”


Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer who seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you have someone you think she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at

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