New Glasgow, N.S.
As seven Syrian families relocate to Pictou County, challenges are many and immediate but Sarah MacIntosh Wiseman is convinced this is an opportunity for Pictou County to show what is possible in rural communities.
“I think there are things we can do better here than in the big cities. If we can work with families who are willing to come to small rural towns – and all our families have made that choice – we could become a model for other rural communities across Canada.”
MacIntosh Wiseman, who chairs Pictou County Safe Harbour which is sponsoring the five families coming to New Glasgow, acknowledges the area has seen its industrial base eroded and its population decline in recent years, but she points to efforts to bring the first Syrian families to the area in 2016 as a display of humanitarianism and community spirit.
“We now have children from those families in university and community college and younger children doing well in school. The families have found employment, now have drivers’ licences and own cars so are managing well.”
After learning there was support for additional immigration in the local business community, MacIntosh Wiseman discovered the Ottawa-based Shapiro Foundation will share the immigrants’ first year costs with the federal government under a blended visa program.
“Without the need to fundraise, we could see advantages to taking a number of families. We’re going to be able to offer group language classes on a larger scale and also employment skills training. With a larger group we will have better access to funding and programs.”
In large cities many new immigrants are assigned to social workers and in many cases the ratio of immigrants to a case worker can be high, she noted.
“We can offer much more personal and steady contact. Many people who were involved with the first families volunteered specific services but quickly became friends. With the Syrians we want first and foremost to give them a safe landing.”
She pointed to dental care as an unanticipated issue that arose with the first families.
“Being a long time in refugee camps, they’d not had access to dental care and there were issues that had to be dealt with quickly. We had local dentists come forward to help. That’s been our pattern, when we need something we’ve found somebody willing to help.”
MacIntosh Wiseman would like to see the federal government devise a resettlement program specifically for rural areas.
“I think our potential has been drastically overlooked. With a program tailored to rural areas, we could be providing much needed resettlement and growing our communities with people who want to contribute.”
Safe Harbour is working closely with the local Muslim community.
“These are people who came forward to help us and now we’re working together. They would like to have a space in the community where they could pray and provide services. If that was available it would likely give us a place to offer programs.”
Given that only a month passed between Safe Harbour applying to resettle Syrians locally and the arrival of the first family, MacIntosh Wiseman is particularly grateful to the local landlords who offered space at reasonable rates.
“Our landlords understood the urgent need and rural towns can provide less expensive housing than in cities so that is another asset we have.”
The five families coming to New Glasgow will all be housed on the town’s east side.
“It is strategic because these are young families with children. They will all attend New Glasgow Academy, which has offered wonderful support, and they will receive the services they need at one location. We also think there is comfort in having the families relatively close together. On top of that, it puts them close to a grocery store and many of the services they will need.”
With the short time Safe Harbour and Pictou’s CAIRN (Community Assisting Refugees Now) had to prepare for the new arrivals, they chose not to make a widespread call for donations.
“In 2016 we were overwhelmed by generousity and it took a long time and many people to work our way through donations. Not having that time we’ve asked people to contact us if they have something specific to donate and we’ll let them know if we need it.”
Previous donations went well beyond what was required by the four Syrian families so they were given to Fort McMurray fire victims who returned to the county and to a variety of other local charities.
Safe Harbour is expecting one more family, relatives of the two Almethyb families in New Glasgow, to arrive before Christmas. That application falls under a different resettlement stream and has been in the works for the better part of two years.
Anyone wanting to donate furnishing or household goods can contact firstname.lastname@example.org and will then be advised if the item is needed. Cash donations are always welcome and charitable receipts can be iss