Manitoulin refugee families celebrate a special Thanksgiving

A very special Thanksgiving dinner was held at Twin Bluffs Restaurant in Gore Bay on Thursday of last week. The dinner brought together the volunteers and members of the three Eritrean families they helped to bring to Manitoulin Island to live.

GORE BAY—It was a very special Thanksgiving dinner, bringing together the volunteers and members of the three Eritrean families they had helped to bring to Manitoulin Island to live.

“I want to say thank you to all of you,” stated Fathiya Rage-Ibrahim, one of the family members who spoke after the delicious Thanksgiving turkey dinner held at the Twin Bluffs restaurant last week. “It is because of all of you that we are here.”

“We were waiting a lot of years for this to take place,” said Ms. Rage-Ibrahim, noting she and her family had to remain in a refugee camp for nine years before coming to live in Canada.

“I’m so happy to be in Canada now,” continued Ms. Rage-Ibrahim. “We have had the opportunity to learn a lot and see a new culture and learn a new language.”

“When we first came we didn’t see anyone else from Eritrea, but got to meet people like Almaz and Kidane (Gebristose) and all the volunteers who have helped out,” said Ms. Rage-Ibrahim. “But we are getting to know everyone in our community. My kids are now correcting my language in English. My sponsors are all with me, to help with anything we need.”

“I’m so happy to have met our support family,” she said, telling the gathering, “my son misses winter, but we are so, so happy.”

Ms. Rage-Ibrahim reminded everyone in attendance, “don’t give up on helping to bring the other people in the camps to Canada as well.” She noted as well the Eritrean family that is still waiting to come to Mindemoya. She pointed out the family had to remain in the refugee camp because volunteers and the Canadian government didn’t know at the time there was a new addition to the family, a baby who didn’t have a visa, and this has delayed the immigration process.

“We are here and everything is good,” said Ms. Rage-Ibrahim. “Again I want to say thank all of you. This is a good night to stand in front of all of you and be able to thank you. We are so happy today.”

Keith McKeen, a member of the Gore Bay Rotary Club, told the large crowd that gathered for the dinner that the evening had been set up by Almaz Gebrekristose. “The idea was for everyone to meet each other.”

There are currently three families on Manitoulin, one in Manitowaning and two in Little Current. A fourth family had come to Gore Bay, but has since transferred to Kitchener.

Ms. Gebrekristose said, “I want thank everyone for coming here this evening and Cheryl Deeg, who was very happy to put on this dinner, everything has been fantastic.” She noted, “when I first heard about the plans to bring the families to the Island I figured it would take about three to four years. But in this case the families were here in months. All of your efforts have been excellent and there has been a lot of people involved.”

“Every house was ready for the families to move in, there was nothing missing that they would need, not even a spoon,” said Ms. Gebrekristose. “When I saw all of this I was so proud of our Island.”

“Anything we asked from the Rotary Club they have done and helped out with,” added Ms. Gebrekristose.

Lianne Hovingh said the Manitowaning family she has helped out has the parents, four children and a grandson. “It has been a pure joy to help them and get to know them. They have come a long way and are now part of the community. It has been a great joy to work alongside the family and the volunteers who have helped out.”

Dr. Roy Jeffery, representing the core group of volunteers helping the Little Current families said, “I’m involved with the Little Current group but I’m not really one of those responsible for the success of the program. That goes to other people. I help out with things like fixing plumbing problems. It is Linda (Erskine) and Tammy (Albers) that deal with all the difficult things.”

Dr. Jeffery pointed out the Little Current families have been helped greatly by the English as a second language program in the community and that the families are making excellent progress and doing very well. “One family has three children who have been involved in sports in their schools. Romme Hamid Kabron (in high school) has written and passed his driver’s licence and is waiting to take his driving exam.”

“All the children have learned English in leaps and bounds and the families have enjoyed being in the community,” said Dr. Jeffery. “It is amazing to see the number of community members who have been involved  volunteering their time, money and everything they have done to support the families.”

Monic Shaw pointed out that in Mindemoya, “we are awaiting for our family to arrive. The parents have  six children from the ages of 13 to a baby. We have the home ready for the family, everything is ready including a garden.”

Greg Bond, of the Gore Bay core group of volunteers, explained a grandmother and her grandson had arrived in Gore Bay last winter. They embraced their surroundings (even the winter) and the young man was doing very well in school.

However, the local group was unable to provide everything the family needed in support and they transferred to Kitchener to live amongst a large group of Eritrean neighbours. “We continue to support them,” said Mr. Bond. “I spoke to them two Saturdays ago and, as reluctant as they were to leave, they are happy. This week they are moving into their permanent home in Kitchener.”

“We visited them two weeks ago and any they are all very happy,” said Ms. Hovingh.

Jack Clark, president of the Rotary Club said, “to Almaz, thank you on behalf of the Rotary Club for allowing us to be part of this celebration here tonight. It is a tremendous honour. Rotary is pleased to have been able to contribute in a small way,” but he said it is the volunteers who deserve the praise. To the families he said, “we are delighted to have you on Manitoulin Island and in Canada.”

Mansura Abdella-Mohammed and Mr. Hamid Kabron also thanked all those who helped bring them to Canada.