Hundreds of refugees have been positively overwhelmed by the warm welcome from the Canadians, many who greeted the newly arrived Syrian families with balloons and flowers at the airport. What a sense of relief to finally have a chance to put down roots and settle into family life.
Initially Amurtel offered free English classes to the women living in the temporary housing set up by the government. These were met with tremendous enthusiasm. After a month or so, the families were moved to permanent housing, and our team continues to visit with individual families, providing support in learning the ropes of living in a new city/country/culture. Many families do not yet speak enough English to get by and so rely on the Amurtel volunteers to help sort out bills, navigate school enrollment forms for their kids, etc. Team members also find much needed supplies for each family, helping them create warm and cozy homes. Maher, a man stricken with polio as a young boy, had been dragging himself around with crutches, something that was both painful and debilitating. He and his family were ecstatic when Amurtel delivered an electric wheelchair. He said he felt his whole life had just opened up for him.
Many of the families Amurtel works with speak of the grueling last few years with fear and sadness. They have recounted to us the terror they experienced as their homes and neighborhoods were bombed while they huddled with their children in basements; the long and dangerous journey to flee the battles, trying to protect their children as best they could. These people were nurses, engineers, teachers, farmers in Syria, living normal family lives in close knit communities. And then the war came to their towns and they were forced to flee with whatever they could carry. Slowly those memories are being balanced by ones of their children excited to make new friends and learn a new language, of making new friends themselves, both within the Syrian community and with the Canadians who have stepped forward to welcome these new neighbors. It is wonderful to see the healing and transformation a hand extended in friendship can bring to an otherwise bewildering and often scary journey.
Right now there are more people fleeing their countries than at any time over the past 50 years; people desperate to escape violence, famine and persecution, seeking a safe place to raise their children. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees 2016 Global Appeal projects there will be approximately 60 million refugees and internally displaced persons each year from 2014 through 2017. That is one person for every 122 people worldwide. Service in this area is desperately needed and currently Amurtel is working with Syrian families in Ottawa, Canada and Athens, Greece as well as Dominicans of Haitian descent seeking safety in the Anse Pitre area of south east Haiti.◆