Three churches key in helping Syrian families relocate

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DAUPHIN, Man. — In 2015, three local churches joined forces to sponsor three Syrian families through Canada’s blended visa office-referred program, in which the federal government chooses the refugees and shares in the cost of their resettlement. 

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/06/2016 (2290 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

DAUPHIN, Man. — In 2015, three local churches joined forces to sponsor three Syrian families through Canada’s blended visa office-referred program, in which the federal government chooses the refugees and shares in the cost of their resettlement. 

It required a major investment of time, money and energy for the church members in the community of 8,200 far from most Arabic speakers and the resettlement services available in the large cities. 

The decision to welcome Syrians fleeing their country’s civil war wasn’t welcomed by everyone. Threatening calls were made last fall to the Dauphin First United Church and the Dauphin food bank formerly run by Ron Marlin, the spokesman for the sponsoring churches. (The RCMP traced the calls to a man in Calgary, and police there warned him to stop.)

ZACHARY PRONG / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Hussein Alassaf, 5, plays outside of a Dauphin community centre where his parents study English each week.

The volunteers from the three churches who sponsored the Syrian families chose a humble acronym for their committee: DIRT. The Dauphin Inter-church Refugee Team oversees a small army of volunteers, and its members are personally helping the new Canadians integrate.

Marlin, a retired RCMP detachment commander, and his wife, Linda Marlin, of Dauphin First United Church, devote a lot of time to organizing appointments and transportation. Retired school principal Millie Meyer and Dr. Scott Kish, who attends the First Baptist Church, saw to the education and health-care needs of the families. Legal aid lawyer Therese Koturbash (from St. Viator’s Roman Catholic Church) knows the law and is someone who “can’t say no,” she said jokingly.

Each of the churches has volunteers making sure the families’ needs are being met. They’ve hired an interpreter (a refugee who studied English literature in Syria) who moved to Dauphin from Prince George, B.C., (where her family resettled) to assist with the integration.

“This is my only way of helping,” said Sara Tohme. The single, young Christian woman has grown close to the Syrian families in Dauphin and says life for her is much easier than it is for many Syrians. “I feel really guilty when I’m happy here.”

The Syrians’ resettlement is strengthening the social and spiritual fabric of Dauphin, said Marlin. “It’s allowed three churches to get to know each other better,” he said.

All kinds of religious stereotypes are being shattered, said Koturbash. 

“I thought the (Syrian) dads would be so strict and stern, and they’re so loving and affectionate with their children,” the lawyer said. Muslims aren’t as rigid and “rule-oriented” as she thought, either.

(“That’s what we thought about the Catholics!” Marlin joked.)

In a community with a dwindling population, having three new families settle and pay taxes and go to school bodes well for the future.

“We need doctors,” said Kish, referencing the fact young Suleyman sisters Roha and Rena want to enter medicine when they grow up.

“It’s exciting to think that one day, when I’m in a nursing home, Roha is my doctor,” said Koturbash. She’s also hoping one day soon, the girls’ mom, Rojin Suleyman, will be able to share her culinary talents with more people. “She’s a great cook.”

Rojin’s daughters, meanwhile, are looking forward to taking band in school in the fall. “She’s so excited her kids are having this opportunity,” said Kish.

Seeing how quickly the children learn and how pleased they are with their achievement is heartening, said Koturbash.

“It’s hearing little Rodi say, ‘I saw Dr. Kish at the school today,’ and seeing their smiles when they’ve said something in proper English.”

Meyer, the retired principal, revels in their progress, too.

“I ask Yousef, ‘How’s it going?’ And he says, ‘Good. Very, very, very good!’”

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

 

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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