January 14, 2016 - 8:00 PM
SHUSWAP - They’ve got houses, furniture, dentists, backpacks and pretty much everything else a newcomer might need, and now a group of volunteers working to sponsor Syrian refugee families finally has its first arrival.
A young man in his 20s arrived in Salmon Arm a couple of days ago, Salmon Arm Refugee Coalition member Brian Ayotte says. Due to arrive soon are the man’s younger brother and a parent.
“It’s very exciting,” Ayotte says. “The process of finding out how to apply was a bit chaotic — of course everyone wants it to happen in the next hour-and-a-half but it doesn’t.”
What started out as a dozen people wanting to help out quickly turned into a coalition with nine different sponsoring groups under its umbrella and no shortage of volunteers, Ayotte says.
“It’s been a very wide community response,” Ayotte says. “It’s not just a bunch of do-gooders, the whole community is involved.”
Several dentists and doctors have agreed to care for the families, and a construction group is offering employment opportunities.
Interior Health has created special programs to help support the medical needs of the families as well as any mental health support they may require.
“Most of these are people with terrible experiences with violence, torture and war,” Ayotte says.
The North Okanagan-Shuswap School District is doing its part to ensure students feel welcome and supported in the school system. Board of Education chair Bobbi Johnson says the district has been setting up English language programs and also put together ‘welcome backpacks’ filled with various school supplies.
“They’ve had very traumatic things happen to them,” Johnson says. “We hope their transition into the community is as smooth as it can be.”
According to Ayotte, the young man who arrived just days ago isn’t wasting any time on his new start.
“The first day he was sitting with a Salmon Arm person who happened to be a graduate engineer. This fellow speaks some English, and he saw the diploma on the wall and got quite excited because (he) is determined to become an engineer,” Ayotte says. “He’s already at 48 hours looking into opportunities to advance his education and improve his English.”
Anyone able to offer employment, donated furniture or other services can get in touch with Ayotte at email@example.com.
To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2016