September 28, 2020

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Living like a refugee

Grunthal holds unique fundraiser to sponsor Syrian family

John Woods / The Canadian Press Files</p><p>Migrants cross into Canada from the United States near Emerson last winter. Many Mennonites, whose ancestors fled to Canada, understand their plight and want to help.</p>

John Woods / The Canadian Press Files

Migrants cross into Canada from the United States near Emerson last winter. Many Mennonites, whose ancestors fled to Canada, understand their plight and want to help.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/5/2017 (1242 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The southern Manitoba town of Grunthal is inviting folks to camp there this weekend — refugee style.

For $100, you can take your own tent and a sleeping bag to the camp and receive a ration of rice and beans. To cook your ration, you’ll need to collect firewood. To find the firewood, you’ll have to follow instructions in Arabic. For an additional $50, you can take in a "luxury" item such as a pillow.

It’s not supposed to be relaxing or easy — it’s supposed to raise money to sponsor a Syrian refugee family and awareness of the plight of millions displaced by war and famine around the world, said volunteer Allison Driedger. She’s part of the Grunthal Refugee Sponsorship team organizing the 24-hour refugee camp event that starts today at 5 p.m. In addition to camping, there will be activities that test the resilience and creativity refugees need to adapt and survive, such as building toys out of scraps and making a stretcher to carry a patient to a mock hospital where, because of a language barrier, they’ll have to use gestures instead of words to get treatment for the patient.

The informal Grunthal Refugee Sponsorship group set up a booth at last year’s Hanover Agricultural Society fair to drum up volunteers and support throughout the Grunthal area. It has raised $21,000 toward the $36,000 required to sponsor its family through the Mennonite Central Committee.

"We don’t want this to be just a church thing," Driedger said. "We want it to be a community-building thing."

It’s working, she said.

Grunthal Grocery got involved, selling United Nations refugee camp rations of rice and beans to more than 120 people for $5 each to support sponsoring the refugee family.

There has been very little opposition to Grunthal welcoming refugees, and even that disappeared as soon as people learned about the young Syrian family they are sponsoring, said Driedger, who has a young family of her own in the community 70 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg.

"It’s about education and sharing with people who this family is."

The couple with four children are languishing in a refugee camp in Lebanon, Driedger said. They’re relatives of a Syrian family sponsored by a group in nearby Kleefeld, which helped the sponsorship group in Grunthal get started.

Helping folks who have been displaced from their homes resonates with many area Mennonites who are descendants of refugees, Driedger said.

"For the most part, everyone here has an attachment to a refugee-type past," she said. This weekend, Grunthal has room for more campers, and spectators are welcome, Driedger said.

"It should be fun."

For more information, go to or search "Grunthal Refugee Sponsorship" on Facebook.

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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