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In what must seem like a blink of an eye, the Almerie family, brought to Kincardine through the efforts of the Kincardine Refugee Committee, has just celebrated their one-year anniversary in Canada.

It has been a year of great change, hard work and commitment for both the committee and the family.

After leaving their home in Syria and finding themselves in a U.N. Lebanese refugee camp for more than seven years, Lena Almerie, along with her four children, landed in Canada in September 2020. Her husband Mohammed followed in October. The months leading up to their arrival were difficult ones, as COVID and other events kept pushing their departure date farther into the future. Living in stifling quarters in a refugee camp, the family never gave up hope that one day they would arrive in Canada and start a new life.

The efforts of the Kincardine Refugee Committee made this all possible; filling out applications and staying connected with the family, all while fundraising to cover the cost of their travel and 100 per cent of their living expenses for the coming year. It takes a generous community, giving of money, time and resources to accomplish such a feat, and the residents of Kincardine answered the call when asked for their support.

“The committee is 100 per cent committed to the family for a period of one year,” said committee member Joye Hunt. “(this includes) financially, as well as finding appropriate housing, providing them with clothing, furniture, bedding, ESL education, transportation, accompanying them as they shop so that they learn about daily life here in Canada, as well as making sure that they are fully aware of resources and safety nets, should they have need of them in the future once the sponsorship has been completed. This takes a large team of volunteers, whom we as a committee could not manage without. Neither could we manage without the support of the community.”

While the official length sponsorship is one year after arrival (the guidelines and accountabilities are set by the federal government), Hunt says it takes approximately three years to transition a family into their new life, and the committee volunteers are committed to mentoring them for as long as they are needed.

The list of support people who have been guiding the family as they start their new life is a long one. Retired teachers have been recruited to teach all family members the English language. Hunt says Grey Bruce Settlement Services, KDSS and Kincardine-Tiverton Township Public School have been enormously supportive with helping the family to progress quickly with their language skills.

Other members of the support team include doctors, dentists and optometrists, who look after their health care and last, but not least, the many volunteers who have helped the family adjust to Canadian customs; shopping, banking, going to school and working in a new country.

In the year since they arrived, so much has changed for the family. The three oldest children, Ahmad, Amjad and Gazal, all attend KDSS. The youngest, Aghad, eight, has settled into Grade 3 at Huron Heights Public School and for the first time is experiencing life outside of a refugee camp.

The entire family is committed to making the most of this opportunity to settle and make a new life in Canada. In just one year, Ahmad, Amjad and Gazal have an amazing grasp of the English language, and are now finding it easier to communicate with their peers and make friends. The two oldest boys even have part time jobs, but all agree – education is their first priority.

Ahmad hopes for a career in information security, Amjad thinks a career as a pilot or surgeon would suit him, while Gazal has her sights set on a career in medicine. All three are excellent students. At eight, Aghad may be a little young to decide on a career path, but he is interested in becoming a teacher.

Parents Mohammed and Lena continue to study English as well. Mohammed works in his field of electronics, and looks forward to improving his skills and his role at the company. Lena hopes to run an Arabic food catering service someday, in between being a busy mother of three teens and a pre-teen.

Sitting with the family in their living room, it is hard to miss how much affection they have for each other. They encourage each other to speak English, and are patient as they search for words that accurately express their thoughts and feelings. This is a family that has faced great adversity and instability, and now, given the opportunity for a better life, have every intention of making that happen. As Mohammed said, “the future in Canada is very good – for me, Lena and the kids.”

This is the second family the committee has sponsored and brought to Kincardine, since its inception in 2015. The first family came from Iran and was of Persian descent, with Farsi as their first language. That family, too, was grateful for the opportunity to build a better life and pursue their dreams, and have since moved to another part of Southern Ontario to be closer to post-secondary schools.

“With three adult children, it was necessary for them to leave to continue their education, as many of our children do,” said Hunt. “The mother and daughter have been polishing their English, and the two young men have done very well, both at George Brown College and at Fanshawe College, with the youngest now having his certificate in HVAC from George Brown and the eldest now in the second year of medical science at Western University. I am happy to say that he also made the Dean’s list last year.”

“Sponsorship is not about keeping these families here in Kincardine, it is about bringing a family who, through no fault of their own, are in dire need, here, supporting them and setting them up for success for wherever their paths might lead them.”

One shadow cast over the family’s happiness has been the discovery that Lena’s brother is now living in a refugee camp in Lebanon, with little hope of being able to leave. Her eyes reflect the pain of being separated from her sibling, 28-year-old Mahmoud. The Kincardine Refugee Committee has applied to sponsor Mahmoud and reunite him with his family in Kincardine. It is currently fundraising to cover the cost of travel, food, clothing, job training healthcare and any other associated expenses. Hunt estimates the committee needs to raise $12,000 to accomplish this.

According to Statistics Canada, 44,620 Syrian refugees were resettled in Canada between Nov. 4, 2015 and Oct. 30, 2020. This number includes 21,745 government-assisted refugees, 3,945 blended visa office-referred refugees and 18,930 privately sponsored refugees, including the Almerie family.

And as for the future of the Kincardine Refugee Committee, Hunt says besides sponsoring Mahmoud, it has been approached by another community member to assist with the sponsorship of a family member and family. This application is currently underway, with the family being interviewed and undergoing health and background checks.

“We have also recently been approached by members of the community about sponsoring Afghanistan families, and while we cannot commit to that at the present time due to the two sponsorships mentioned above, it is reasonable to expect that we shall in the future,” said Hunt.

Donations to the Kincardine Refugee Committee can be made by cheque, payable to Kincardine Knox Presbyterian Church, with Kincardine Refugee Committee on the memo line. Donations of more than $20 per year are eligible for a tax receipt. Mail donations to KIncardine Knox Presbyterian Church, 345 Durham Street, Kincardine N2Z 1Y6.

Donations can also be made on-line via credit card at Canadahelps.org. Click on the Donate tab and type in Knox Presbyterian Church Kincardine Refugee Account. Tax receipts can be printed directly from the site.





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