Town-Gown volunteer group welcomes three refugee families since 2015 establishment
SACKVILLE, NB — The Sackville Refugee Response Coalition (SRRC) is celebrating an anniversary – it is one year since the arrival of the first of three refugee families brought to Sackville by the town/university coalition, formed in 2015 in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.
Comprised of representatives from Mount Allison University, as well as local churches, service agencies, and community members, the SRRC is truly a collaborative effort. Chaired by the University chaplain, Rev. John C. Perkin, the SRRC has over 100 volunteers including students, faculty, and staff at Mount Allison, as well as local citizens of all ages. Through sponsorship agreements with three church denominations (Baptist, United, and Presbyterian), the SRRC raised over $100,000 in just over one month, which helped support the arrival of three refugee families to the community.
“The SRRC has been a community effort. When the Syrian refugee crisis began to dominate the headlines in late 2015, we organized an open meeting for individuals to come together and discuss what we could do,” says Perkin. “We had over 100 people attend that first meeting and support only grew from there. Seeing how the community, both University and town, came together to help our newest neighbours settle in Canada makes this anniversary a particularly special one.”
The group is actually celebrating three milestones this summer: sending one Syrian family off to Ontario to be reunited with their adult children and grandchildren, a one-year anniversary in Canada for another Syrian family, and welcoming the third family, who just arrived from Congo last month.
Several Mount Allison students have volunteered with the SRRC, serving on the steering and welcoming committees, volunteering as translators and fund raisers, making presentations to the Town Council, schools, churches and in many other places, and serving as willing furniture movers and child care minders.
“This experience provided significant opportunities for student development through their involvement in this project, both in hands-on experience with the work and with the families, as well as in learning more about refugee issues,” notes Perkin, who has served as the SRRC chair since its inception almost two years ago.
The Town of Sackville, at its 2016 Fall Fair, recognized the work of this organization when Rev. Perkin received the Citizen of the Year Award on behalf of all the volunteers of the SRRC.
While Perkin will be stepping aside from the role of chair after two action-packed years, the SRRC will be continuing their efforts and are hoping to welcome another family before the end of the year.
“It was a moving moment when the first family arrived, and equally moving when, almost one year later, that first family was the first to visit the third family as they arrived to their new home in Canada, bringing food and welcoming smiles,” says Perkin. “In celebration of Canada’s 150th this year, Mount Allison also celebrates this unique collaborative effort, and the first anniversary of a refugee family’s new beginning in the ‘true north strong and free.’ ”
Photo caption: Members of the three families sponsored by the Sackville Refugee Response Coalition. On the left, Soze and Nizar Hussein, holding their son Fenar (almost 2). In the centre, Feride and (behind her) Ahmet Ali. On the right, Mwaliasha and Jafari Songolo Ramazani, holding children Abdallah (4) and Rehema (2), with Jafari’s brother Kintu Songolo Ramazani (at the back right). The Alis recently moved to Ontario to take up residence with family members there.