Refugee settlement groups secure homes

MANITOULIN— Refugee settlement committees have been making rapid progress in preparing to welcome families fleeing the scourge of war and oppression, and although only one group has been approved in their request for a family (a couple of the other groups’ chosen families had already found sponsors and had to select another), most of the committees have secured accommodation for refugee families.

“We take possession of the home we are renting in Little Current on December 24,” said Little Current committee facilitator Linda Erskine following that committee’s Monday night meeting.

The Little Current committee is currently seeking donations of good used (or new) furniture for the homes, she said. “Our committee has decided that we will be looking for furniture for all of the homes across Manitoulin. Dr. Roy Jeffery has generously agreed to store everything until it is needed.”

“Since we are taking possession on December 24, we are hoping to have a couple of weeks to get the house set up before the families get here,” said Ms. Erskine.

As the next step in those preparations, Ms. Erskine said that the committee will be having an “In the Spirit of Giving” shower for the families at the Little Current United Church hall on Sunday, November 29 from 2 pm to 4 pm. “We would like people to bring gently used (or new) furniture, household items, cash or gift cards that will enable us to purchase everything the families will need when they arrive.”

The physical needs are not all the committee is anticipating however. “We have a good group of people working on integration strategies,” she said. “We are still researching English as a second language (ESL) teachers. Although we have three, two of those are not available until April or May.”

Another member is putting together a resource directory of local services the families may need to resource in the area. There are local community members, both male and female who are fluent in the languages familiar to the Eritrean family the Little Current group have been approved for, and that will undoubtedly prove to be a great benefit to the effort noted Ms. Erskine.

The group has also reached out to the Sudbury Muslim community leaders for guidance. “We have made a connection with religious leaders in Sudbury and they have assured us that, should the family choose to attend services, they will do whatever they can to assist them,” she said.

Another member of the group is creating magnetic labels with photos depicting various food items to attach to the outside of the fridge with English labels to assist in language. “That community member has a great deal of experience in dealing with literacy challenges,” she said.

The committee has prepared a tasty welcome for those attending the Spirit of Giving shower event at the Little Current United Church Hall on November 29 from 2 pm to 4 pm. “We are preparing Christmas baking, hot chocolate and hot apple cider for everybody that comes in,” she said.

Dr. Ben Quackenbush noted that the other Island groups have moved forward with securing accommodations and, although they have had a slight setback in their initial choices of families, they are still largely seeking to engage Eritrean families.

While there has been some questions raised locally about whether the refugees are truly in dire need, or more properly labelled as immigrants as they have been living in an Ethiopian refugee camp for two years “where other people are taking care of them,” Dr. Quackenbush replied that he respectfully disagreed. “If the UN says they are refugees, I’ll take their word.”

Ms. Erskine noted for her part that she believes that living in a tent in a refugee camp for two years is in fact a “dire” situation.

The Gore Bay group will be meeting at the Catholic Church in Gore Bay this evening (Wednesday November 18) and Jack Brady remains the contact for that group. Those interested in becoming involved in any of the groups are invited to contact Dr. Quackenbush through email at manitoulinrefuge@gmail.com (note no hyphen) and he will pass the information onto the relevant committee.