syria children speak from 005Hub Staff

A plea to help support a local movement was brought to the October 13 Saugeen Shores Committee of the Whole meeting. Katherine Martinko spoke on behalf of Saugeen Shores Refugee Fund, a group formed about a month ago to help victims in the ongoing war in Syria.

“We believe that the best response is to sponsor refugees to come live in our community here and I have come tonight to request a letter of support from the mayor and the town council.”

Martinko said that since the war began in Syria four years ago, the country has been emptied of half of its population, an estimated 3.9 million refugees, and half of those are children.

“Stop for a moment to think how bad life would have to get before you'd run away from your home, children in tow, and leave everything behind.”

Martinko added that 96 percent of child refugees are not in school and that the countries to which these refugees are fleeing, such as Lebanon and Jordan, are not a permanent solution. Accommodations are crowded, food is scarce and those needing medical attention can end up on long wait lists.

In some cases, the wealthier among the refugees pay up to $3,000 per person to human smugglers to take them north to Turkey but many don't survive the journey. Alan Kurdi, a 3 year old Syrian boy who washed ashore after drowning in the Mediterranean Sea is one of many who didn't survive such passage.

When photos of Kurdi surfaced (see full story here), many were deeply affected and Martinko was no exception.

“After I saw that heartbreaking photo I revived an email from an organization called Mennonite Central Committee. It said, 'Sponsors needed for Syrian refugees'. Suddenly I realized this is something I could do. It was something the whole community could do. That's when I started the Saugeen Shores Refugee Fund. We are a group of local residents who feel compelled to help by assisting with the resettlement of refugee families in our area.”

The Fund is a joint sponsorship venture with the federal government and provides refugees with permanent resident status, providing them with OHIP as well as the ability to work upon arrival.

“We will find a place for them to live, pick them up at the airport, provide them with furniture and clothes, help them shop for groceries, enrol children in school and adults in English classes, drive them to appointments, help them fill out forms and provide them with whatever physical and emotional support they need,” said Martinko.

She added that these people will greatly enrich the lives of those around them. “These refugees have so much to offer us, food, music, customs and stories that will enrich our community, bring young blood to an aging population and infuse the town with entrepreneurial ambition.

“Other communities in Ontario are doing the exact same thing. Owen Sound is sponsoring at least three Syrian families. Wiarton, Clinton, Listowel and London are fund raising too. A Syrian family has already arrived in Guelph and Goderich has a family of 14 arriving next month from Sudan.”

Martinko said that the response from Saugeen Shores has been generous. The group met their first $20,000 target last week and they are well on their way of raising their second $20,000.

A letter from council would not only let a Syrian family know that they are welcome here but also be included in a settlement plan that is submitted to the government.

Mayor Mike Smith was in full support. “I think there'll be no problem at all with your request here. If you're successful with them then let me know and I'd be more than happy to welcome that family to our community,” said Smith.

Vice Deputy Mayor Diane Huber asked if the group had any fund raising events planned.

“We have a Halloween party happening on October 31 at the United Church in Port Elgin and we are also having a benefit fund raising concert on November 7, a Saturday evening at the United Church in Port Elgin. That will be a mix of everything from classical to contemporary music.” Martinko added that the tickets are $20.

For more information on the Saugeen Shores Refugee Fund, or to donate online, visit their website.mother and childkatherine at donation tablemariam makes donation jars