The Central Okanagan Refugee Committee (CORC) was formed in the late 90s as a consortium of United Churches (Winfield United, Rutland United and First United Kelowna) working together to sponsor Kosovo refugees through the United Church of Canada as a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) with Canadian Immigration (CIC). We sponsored four families at that time. Winfield had previous experience with Salvadoran refugees and First United with Vietnamese boat people and a “woman at risk” from Somalia with her young baby. In the early 2000s CORC also sponsored a single mom and her 4 children from Colombia after the husband had been killed by Colombian rebels. Recently St Paul’s United has also joined the group
But as the Syrian refugee situation unfolded CORC became an umbrella or coordinating group for other SAH holders in the Okanagan because of our 15+ years experience and because our refugee family the Alshahouds (a family of 7) who arrived on May 20th was the first Syrian refugee family in Kelowna. (A Syrian family had arrived in Summerland, sponsored by Summerland United Church in late March so this was the second family arriving in the valley.) We wanted to be sure we knew what each group was doing so we didn’t duplicate things, could support each other and assist one another as each family arrived. The SAH groups involved are:
- CORC: Winfield, Rutland, St Paul`s, and First United Church (currently assisting the Alshahoud family and awaiting the El Sweitleh family of 6)
- The Nelson Diocese of the Catholic Church (St Charles Garnier sponsoring a family from Colombia and awaiting a family from Myanmar; St Pius sponsoring an Iraqi family: the diocese is awaiting 12 families coming to various communities the Okanagan valley)
- LARC: The Lutheran Anglican Refugee Committee (currently applying)
- Winfield and Mission Creek Alliance Church (awaiting the Alasmar family from Homs Syria, and a second group is about to sponsor the married son and daughter-in-law and 2 children related to the Alshahoud family)
- The Islamic Centre
- Plus other members of the community who have asked to join the committee and work with us
The community has been very helpful responding to numerous fundraisers that have been held to raise the money needed to sponsor a family or families. The Society of Hope offered help for housing the Alasmar family coming under sponsorship of the Alliance SAH.
Dr Shane Ganier (dentist) and dental technician Shari Holland took the Alshahoud family checked their teeth and did free xrays, and asked the Kelowna Dental Association if the dentists would each take on one of the family members to bring their teeth up to date filling cavities etc. The dad had his teeth all extracted and a denturist has now offered to make dentures free of charge. This was a big help to our group and family.
A group of young moms know as “Momas to Momas” have agreed to help us organize a daycare so the next 3 families who are coming with pre-schoolers can have daycare so the mothers can attend ESL lessons in the mornings. Previously the government used to supply the daycare but do not do so now. We will hire an earlier childhood education specialist to run the program and the Momas group will supply volunteers to help (and also bring their children to play and interact with the Syrian children.) They are also gathering children’s clothing.
A quilting group in Rutland and one in Winfield each presented beautiful handmade quilts to the Alshahoud family as our weather turned cold.
Some people contacted us saying that they had ESL experience and were willing to help. Because there was no ESL for the children during the summer these folks formed an invaluable group to provide lessons for the family every morning at the church, so they did not lose out and go backwards during the summer. Some of these folks now assist within the classroom as volunteers with the family and one assists with homework as needed. Many hours have been put in by many volunteers.
This is truly a community effort and will grow as more families arrive.
Donations for the refugee families can be made at First United church and a charitable donation receipt will be given. Currently Mohammed and Sara are trying to pay back the government for the $10,000 bill incurred for airfare to being their family to Kelowna.
Click here for more pictures.