Community members in South Osborne are rallying to bring two refugee families home to Winnipeg.

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This article was published 31/12/2015 (2123 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Community members in South Osborne are rallying to bring two refugee families home to Winnipeg.

Since launching its GoFundMe page, the newly formed South Osborne Syrian Refugee Initiative has raised over $45,000 in just one week.

Charleswood resident Joseph Chaeban’s brother-in-law Khaled Ali, wife Tanha, twins Mohammed and Zainab, 7, and Naya, six months, fled Syria in January 2012 and have been refugees in Lebanon for nearly three years. Khaled is a farmer.

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Charleswood resident Joseph Chaeban’s brother-in-law Khaled Ali, wife Tanha, twins Mohammed and Zainab, 7, and Naya, six months, fled Syria in January 2012 and have been refugees in Lebanon for nearly three years. Khaled is a farmer.

The initiative was spearheaded by area residents Matthew Lawrence and Paula Leslie, who hoped to sponsor a refugee family. Working individually, the two felt overwhelmed by the huge undertaking and reached out to the community for support.  

“So many people have such a good hearts.”

"We made up some posters and postered everywhere in the neighbourhood and of course we had high hopes but we had no idea of the interest this would garner," Leslie said.

The group partnered with members of Churchill Park United Church to host a community meeting to gauge interest and see if there was enough support to move forward with the sponsorship. According to Leslie, over 50 people attended the initial meeting with more reaching out for information.

Chaeban’s cousins, Mohammad Oglan, wife Kamar and children Amro, 4, and Eilene, 18 months, are Syrian refugees living temporarily in Turkey. Mohammad is a mechanical engineer and a cheesemaker.

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Chaeban’s cousins, Mohammad Oglan, wife Kamar and children Amro, 4, and Eilene, 18 months, are Syrian refugees living temporarily in Turkey. Mohammad is a mechanical engineer and a cheesemaker.

"We’ve been amazed and overwhelmed by people’s generosity and their interest in helping. I think like all of us, we watch the news and we want to do something, but we don’t know what or how, and it seems too big of an undertaking on our own. So working together is a great community initiative as well," she said.

Charleswood resident Joseph Chaeban learned of the South Osborne Syrian Refugee Initiative (SOSRI) through a mutual friend of Matthew Lawrence. He attended the first meeting at Churchill Park United where he shared his family’s story.

"I was overwhelmed because there were so many people at the church, and once I listened to all the stories of how everyone wants to help the Syrian refugees, I told them I need help because my wife’s family is scattered in the Middle East," Chaeban explained.

Chaeban’s brother-in-law (a farmer), sister-in-law and their children have been living at his father’s cramped house with 20 others in Lebanon since 2012. The family fled Al-Qusayr, Syria before it was levelled by the Syrian Army and Hezbollah.

His wife’s cousin (a mechanical engineer and cheesemaker) and young family have been living in Turkey since 2012 after fleeing their home in Homs, Syria when it was destroyed during a battle. The family struggles to find work day-to-day to pay for rent and food.

The families have experienced many traumas, lost loved ones, and still live with uncertainty and sporadic support from humanitarian agencies in the region.

"Both families lost their homes, they lost their land and they had no money," Chaeban said. "Everything they had was gone."

The SOSRI hopes raise a total of $60,000 by May to bring Chaeban’s relatives to Winnipeg and will be hosting a benefit concert at The Park Theatre on Jan. 19 to raise money and awareness. The Park has donated the use of the venue and performers The Bonaduces, Sweet Alibi and DJ Co-op have donated their time. A number of volunteers from the community, including Chaeban’s wife Zainab, will also be preparing traditional Syrian food to be served at the benefit.

"If the people knew in Syria, or Lebanon, or Turkey — all the Syrian refugees — the people behind them that they don’t even know, they would be astonished and wouldn’t believe the support that Canada has towards these refugees," Chaeban said. "So many people have such a good hearts."

It’s hoped the two families will live in South Osborne when they arrive and neighbours have also offered to provide housing.

"We want to welcome them fully and completely into the community," Leslie said. "Our community will be enriched, I know, by their presence."

For more information search South Osborne Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative on Facebook. To donate go to www.gofundme.com/cnfxddc4 or visit Churchill Park United (525 Beresford Ave.). Tickets to the benefit concert are $20 and are available through ticketfly.com, The Park Theatre or Churchill Park United.

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Twitter: @SouwesterWPG

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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