News Local

Valley Welcome halfway to goal

By Ryan Paulsen, The Daily Observer

Ryan Paulsen
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Pastor Ed Turner from Melville United Church in Eganville accepts a $3,000 donation to Valley Welcome from Diane Hammel, given on behalf of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pembroke. The money will go to help the group's continuing efforts to bring a family of 14 Syrian refugees to the Eganville area, seven of whom have already arrived.

Ryan Paulsen
Pastor Ed Turner from Melville United Church in Eganville accepts a $3,000 donation to Valley Welcome from Diane Hammel, given on behalf of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pembroke. The money will go to help the group's continuing efforts to bring a family of 14 Syrian refugees to the Eganville area, seven of whom have already arrived.

Valley Welcome, the community group in and around Eganville working to bring a family of 14 Syrian refugees to the Ottawa Valley are halfway to their ultimate goal.

The first of the refugees, a husband and wife, arrived a few weeks ago, and a few days later, Valley Welcome volunteers learned that the woman's sister was slated to be resettled in New Brunswick with her own husband and their three children. When they heard that the family was risking being split, they sprung into action.

"So we contacted the sponsorship group in New Brunswick," explains Ed Turner, Valley Welcome volunteer and pastor of Melville United Church in Eganville, "and they agreed that the family should be resettled together, so they were willing to let us sponsor that family of five. We found that out Sunday night, Monday we worked with the sponsorship agreement holder, the United Church of Canada, and CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada), and we were able to get an agreement. Then it was a matter of getting the paper work done, because they were arriving in Montreal on Tuesday."

The group took the bus to Montreal, where the family had been transferred to the processing facility, and after a flurry of emails and phone calls, everything was arranged and the family could leave with Valley Welcome, leading to an emotional reunion between sisters.

"It was quite a moment when the two sisters first saw each other," recalls Turner. "They hadn't seen each other in quite some time, and they had no idea we were able to do this."

While the time leading up to that moment was stressful and frantic, it's all part and parcel of the process, explains Turner. After weeks of waiting for any confirmation, sponsorship groups have to be ready to spring into action on virtually a moment's notice.

"Forty-eight hours before the [first] family arrived in Ottawa, we were told they were on their way. And then on the second family we only had maybe 24 or 36 hours notice. That's the way it happens. It's a lot better than on the other end, though. The first family only had two hours' notice that they were leaving. Two hours' notice and then they were on the plane and away they went."

With seven family members present and accounted for, the group is now awaiting news of the arrival of the other seven: three other adult siblings of the two sisters who already arrived, and the patriarch and matriarch of the whole family.

For Turner, the entire experience has been a glowing example of the good a community can do when they pull together.

"It's so humbling to see how this community has worked together," he says. "There have been two people from the Islamic Centre in Deep River who have been assigned to Valley Welcome, and they went with us to Ottawa and Montreal as translators, and they've been a very important part of this community endeavour. And the community as a whole has been incredible in their support for this program."

Among other preparations involving housing, food and clothing donations and arrangement for English as a second language education for the family, various community groups have come up with contributions of their own.

Students at Opeongo High School have introduced an anti-bullying campaign, and are preparing to support the incoming children in the family in various other ways as well.

According to Turner, getting to interact face-to-face with people from such a starkly different culture has been enlightening for many.

"What people see as Islam, they get from CNN, and that's what they see, so there's a lot of fear. But what we got through this process is that the same people I got emails from at first, I'm now getting emails from them saying 'we're so glad we decided to do this and be part of this process.' It's been really eye-opening for everybody."

ryan.paulsen@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/PRyanPaulsen