How one group of residents is helping Syrian families come to Canada

Refugee Aid Canada Members (L to R): Back Row: Sameena Khan, Susan Monaghan, Olivia Nixon and Heidi Brault. Middle Row: Amin Amlani, and Nilofar Amlani. Front Row: Marc Blanchard, Charles Gregoire, and Hassan Futainah. Absent: Nazmu Mamdani, Samira Ayad Yedri
Refugee Aid Canada Members (L to R):
Refugee Aid Canada Members (left to right). Back row: Sameena Khan, Susan Monaghan, Olivia Nixon and Heidi Brault.  Middle row: Amin Amlani, and Nilofar Amlani. Front row: Marc Blanchard, Charles Gregoire, and Hassan Futainah. Absent: Nazmu Mamdani, Samira Ayad Yedri.


“If not me, who? I need to do something,” said Olivia Nixon when she became aware of the plight of the Syrian refugees.

She wasn’t the only one compelled to act.

In September 2015 shocking photos of the body of a three-year old boy lying on a beach were splashed across the front page of national newspapers. Syrian refugees became an election issue and ideas surrounding the social responsibilities of Canadians were challenged.

The local group, Refugee 613 mobilized quickly and held information sessions for those who were interested in helping.

Late in 2015, Nixon attended an information session in Kanata. “At the end of the meeting it was go, join a group and do,” said Nixon.

Looking around for a group to join, Nixon says she was directed to a group at the back of the room. “I just kind of barged into the group and said: ‘Look, I have no time and no money, but tell me how I can help.’”

“We didn’t know each other but all wanted to help.”

Turns out the group, who were strangers then, work very well together. Original group members included Carp resident Nixon, Kanata residents Charles Gregoire and Heidi Brault along with Stittsville Residents Amin and Nilofar Amlani.

Nixon said, “We didn’t know each other but all wanted to help.”

It didn’t take long for the group to set some goals. “In our first meeting we decided to get into a program to bring at least one family to Canada,” said Amin Amlani. “We were really concerned that all our efforts be targeted to a family that had little children.”

The group has expanded to include several others and called themselves Refugee Aid Canada. Once a month they meet to check in and review their progress. Currently, they are committed to helping a Syrian family of five, currently living in Lebanon come to Canada by the end of the year. If all goes well, they may be able to sponsor a second family.

As it turns out, sponsorship is a process that is complicated, lengthy and expensive.

The cost to sponsor a family for a year is about $30,000 and the time commitments to help a family fully integrate to a new community are huge.

Amlani described some unexpected parts of the sponsorship. “The whole process of the settlement plan was a surprise. The government requires you to commit – for example, Heidi and Charles will create a budget. It is very detailed. Even who would drive them to the doctor.”

Echoing the sentiments, Brault said, “You have to take a lot of things into consideration!”

Group members keep themselves busy with planning and also learning. They attend seminars to learn about all kinds of relevant information, such as the rental rights and obligations of a tenant.

Charles Gregoire said “There are lots of resources here in Ottawa, but you have to be aware of them.”

Group members have also dedicated themselves to raising the funds to bring a family over. They started by approaching their friends and family for donations and have found other ways to fundraise too.

For example, Nixon and her daughters were selling t-shirts.

Brault and Gregoire are embarking on July 6 for a sixteen day Fundraising Tandem Cycling Tour from Ottawa to Fredericton. “Every little bit helps,” says Brault.

The group still has a long way to go before the family they sponsor will arrive in Canada and when the family arrives, there will still be a lot to do. So far, it’s all been worth it.

“It’s been an incredible experience,” says Nixon.

There is great satisfaction in helping others. Brault said, “We are part of a Canadian community that is committed to do something good. We are leading out and showing a side of Canada that the world doesn’t often see.”

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