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Refugee sponsorship initiative aims to reunite Syrian family members in Swift Current

Posted on 28 April 2021 by Matthew Liebenberg

A new refugee sponsorship initiative by the First United Church in Swift Current aims to reunite members of a Syrian family.

The congregation is currently raising the required $40,000 that must be in place before the refugee sponsorship application can be submitted to authorities.

This is the second time the First United Church is sponsoring a refugee family to start a new life in Swift Current.

Amy Popick was the chair of the refugee sponsorship working group during the original initiative six years ago and she is again in that position for this new effort.

She appreciates the support of the congregation for the continuation of the First United Church refugee sponsorship program.

“We were really grateful and pleased with the congregation and church council and with the outreach committee in our church,” she said. “Everyone was supportive of going forward with this, specifically because of the connection that has been created with the Etmeh family, who we had previously sponsored and just really wanting to see them have a family connection here and also know that we’re supporting refugee sponsorship at the same time.”

The First United Church refugee sponsorship program was initiated in 2015 as a way to respond to the global refugee crisis and to make a contribution through practical action to support a refugee family.

“When the first sponsorship of the Etmeh family was nearing an end, we talked about keeping the sponsorship fund open so it could be a living fund in the hopes that we could do more work like this, because we didn’t want it to end there,” Popick said. “Once we got to know the Etmehs and hear their story, and obviously learn that they still have family in a really terrible situation in Syria, naturally we wanted to try to help.”

Heba Anouz and husband Anas Etmeh arrived with their two young children Shahed and Mohammed in Swift Current in February 2016. Their family has grown since then with the birth of their third child, Leia, and they recently became Canadian citizens.

Anouz said they came to Canada with no idea what their future will be and what was waiting for them, but they received a warm welcome and Swift Current has become their new home.

“When we arrived at Regina airport, we didn’t know who is coming to pick us up and if our future would be good,” she said.

She recalled the smiling and welcoming faces at the airport who later became like family as they settled in their new life in Swift Current. She is now a member of the First United Church refugee sponsorship working group, and she is thankful the congregation decided to sponsor members of her family. She is looking forward to being reunited with her sister, brother-in-law, and their three children.

She will be helping her family to settle in Swift Current through this sponsorship initiative, but her goal is also to give support to other refugee families arriving in the city.

“If I can help, I will help more, even if it’s not my family,” she said. “When the other Syrian family came, we were helping them with translating, going with them to the schools, and I’ve been with them to doctors. It’s not only for my family. If they do it again, I will help, for sure.”

She appreciates the support of those contributing towards the fundraising goal, which will make it possible for her children to get together with their cousins. Her 10-year-old daughter Shahed still remembers her cousins.

“The one that miss them a lot is Shahed, because she really enjoyed playing with them and being with them,” Anouz said. “She lived with them for three-and-a-half years together in the same house.”

Popick felt the involvement of Anouz as a member of the refugee sponsorship working group is a real benefit, because she brings a unique perspective due to her own refugee experience.

“We are absolutely privileged to have Heba’s knowledge and experience,” Popick said. “I feel she has a huge role as a leader, because she has personally experienced the life of a refugee. She can offer us a different kind of wisdom as to how we can be more supportive. … The Etmehs will be really leading the way in supporting the refugee family, who are family members, because they’re going to be able to do translation and lead in a lot of ways and in a lot of better ways than we ever could have, because they’ve had the lived experience.”

Most of the other members of the refugee sponsorship working group were involved with the previous sponsorship initiative, and they are therefore familiar with the work that will be required during the entire process to support the new refugee family after their arrival in Swift Current.

The success of the entire initiative depends on the ability of the working group and the congregation to raise the $40,000 for this private refugee sponsorship. These funds will be held in trust until the family arrives. It will then be disbursed over the 12-month sponsorship period to cover the family’s living expenses.

“That’s our biggest challenge,” Popick said about the fundraising goal. “We’ve got plenty of volunteers, we’ve got plenty of willing people to help, but until we can have that dollar amount, until we can reach that goal, everything waits. Once we’ve reached that goal, then we can proceed with paperwork and we can get the ball rolling and it still takes like probably upwards of a year to get all of the paperwork processed and get a refugee family over here. So we’re trying to create as much momentum as we can so we can reach this goal in a timely fashion and get the sponsorship started.”

She emphasized every dollar raised will go directly towards supporting the family and all donations, regardless of the amount, are tax deductible. The COVID-19 public health restrictions on public events make the fundraising effort more challenging, because typical events that were organized in the past cannot take place during the pandemic.

“One thing I think that is a positive of this is it’s causing us to think outside the box, and actually reach out beyond our community and trying to get creative,” she said. “We’re trying to connect with other congregations around the province and have actually connected with the Muslim community in Toronto, who have been really enthusiastic and helping spread the word. … So the interesting thing is, because of COVID we’re reaching further out than we ever would have attempted, which makes for more opportunity for building connections and community.”

There was strong community support for previous initiatives in Swift Current to sponsor refugees to settle in the city.

“The experience of our previous sponsorship and those connections that were made during that first sponsorship journey have really opened my eyes in a huge way to the generosity and openness and welcoming spirit of this community,” Popick noted. “I just feel like we have really the best community we could ever ask for as far as support and opportunities and options and just overall positive support.”

There are different ways to make a donation to the First United Church refugee sponsorship initiative. An electronic funds transfer can be made to give.firstunited@sasktel.net with a note in the memo section to indicate it is for refugee sponsorship.

A cheque can be made out to First United Church with an indication in the memo section it is for refugee sponsorship. The mailing address is: 223 3rd Ave NE, Swift Current, SK, S9H 2G8

Another option for supporters of this sponsorship initiative is to arrange for an automatic monthly withdrawal from their bank account through a pre-authorized remittance (PAR). An online donation can also be made on the First United Church fundraising page at: https://chuffed.org/project/refugee-sponsorship-and-family-reunification

Details about this refugee sponsorship initiative and the different donation options are available on the First United Church website at: http://www.firstunitedsc.ca/get-involved/refugee-sponsorship/

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