In the space of a single month, the prospect of resettling seven Syrian families in Pictou County has moved from an exciting challenge to an unfolding reality as five families have arrived and a sixth is expected Thursday Oct. 18 night.
Since Thanksgiving weekend volunteers have been scurrying to divide furnishings, towels, bedding and kitchen necessities between various rental properties, determined that these new arrivals will have basic comforts and a warm welcome.
This second small wave of Syrian immigration comes two years after the first families settled here.
Sarah MacIntosh Wiseman was approached by a member of the local business community.
“He felt we could use these people to build our community. He also suggested the business community would help with the cost of some of the necessary services.”
MacIntosh Wiseman got the support of Trinity United Church which played a major role in supporting the first refugees to arrive locally and approached the federal government. At that point, she was made aware the Shapiro Foundation and federal government would share the first year cost of these families.
“That changed everything. It became possible for us to bring in a larger number of families.”
MacIntosh Wiseman immediately contacted Pictou’s CAIRN (Communities Assisting Refugees Now) which previously brought two families to Pictou and they agreed to take on another two families.
“From the time we approached the government to the time our first family arrived was less than a month so the process has been unbelievably fast.”
Mac, Mac and Mac legal firm volunteered to set up one of the households and Crombie REIT took on another while other volunteers divided up the rest of the work.
Last week furniture was barely in place and the toddler’s bed topped with a teddy bear sporting a Canada T- shirt before a small contingent went to meet the first family - a couple and a toddler – at the airport.
Two and a half years earlier Safe Harbour brought Rania Almethyb, her husband Basem and their then four children to New Glasgow. Before Almethyb arrived, MacIntosh Wiseman asked Tareq Hadhad, who had already relocated to Antigonish from Syria and whose family later established Peace by Chocolate, to try to contact the Almethybs directly to reassure them they would be looked after on arrival.
“Within two hours he had talked to Rania and he was able to encourage and reassure her and that was tremendously helpful,” said MacIntosh Wiseman.
Because the current group of refugees is being moved within a much shorter timeframe it was not possible to make contact at the refugee camp but Almethyb met the new arrivals at the airport, greeting them in their own language, answering their anxious questions and welcoming them on behalf of Safe Harbour.
“To have Rania with us, speaking to them in their language and with her generous, outgoing personality was wonderful.”
Jim McKenna of Safe Harbour was charged with transporting the luggage, if the family had any.
“I was deeply moved witnessing this young couple with their infant child arrive in this country with two simple suitcases, representing their only possessions,” he said.
A few Safe Harbour members, a few local Muslims and a few 2016 refugees were gathered at the family’s new temporary residence where a home-cooked Syrian meal awaited the exhausted travelers.
On Monday night, last week’s new arrivals were back at the airport with Safe Harbour and CAIRN to meet the next families, two for Pictou and one for New Glasgow, greeting them in their own language and sharing first impressions of their new home. Something similar will happen again tonight when two more families arrive.
The four years Cathy and Dave Hanley spent overseas after retirement prompted them to get involved with the Syrian families in 2016.
“We know what it is to be in a country where you don’t speak the language, even though our circumstances certainly didn’t compare to people fleeing a war. I don’t have the words to say what this experience with the Syrian families has been like. It just makes me happy,” said Cathy Hanley, a retired English teacher.
She, Shirley MacIntosh and Sue MacIntosh are the jugglers in charge of channeling a stream of donations to the new households.
“People have been amazing, as in the past, but if anyone can donate a washer we’d love to hear from them,” said Hanley.
She is also looking for a retired high school math teacher who might be able to provide some tutoring, as needed.
Anyone with specific items to donate can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to see what is still required.