By Dan Rankin
On Oct. 20 at the Pyramid Centre for the Mayor’s Breakfast, Mayor Al Strathdee commented on the estimated 60 million people around the world today who are currently displaced from their homes, calling it “the greatest crisis in humanity.”
“We’re a community that has a lot and can give a lot more,” he said.
That’s why the mayor approached the St. Marys Ministerial Association about working to bring to St. Marys a family of refugees from Syria, a country that has been in a civil war since 2011, causing over four million people to flee their homes.
Within the Ministerial Association, Presbyterian Church minister Rev. Gwen Ament was charged with heading up the new St. Marys Refugee Sponsorship Group (SMRSG) for her past experience with sponsoring refugees.
“If people haven’t been involved in any type of sponsorship program, you take that first step really tentatively because you don’t know how it works,” she said. “I was involved in two other refugee sponsorship groups in other churches that I worked with, so it was not so intimidating for myself.”
Ament has previous experience with the Kanata Stittsville Refugee Sponsorship Group near Ottawa and the Sleeping Giant Refugee Sponsorship Group in Thunder Bay.
The group was successful in their application to bring a family of four, as well as three other single women, all of whom were born in Syria, to St. Marys, Ament said. All of their forms identified their situations as “urgent,” she added. The women are 59, 29 and 19 years old, while the family is made up of a 30-year-old father, 26-year-old mother and their two infant children, ages three and one. The 29-year-old woman is university educated. Beyond that, and that they all speak Arabic, not much is yet known about the inbound refugees, Ament said.
“The direction with it was that they do need to be settled together, so that’s what we’ll be endeavouring to do,” she said. “In our mind, we are seeing them a certain way, but there’s no indication that they’re actually related. There’s nothing else that we know.”
Support for the SMRSG in their aim to raise money to provide for these displaced people has been strong out of the gate, she said. “It’s just been amazing to see the community response. Already within the first week of having that set up, we were at $5,250,” she said. They have set a fundraising goal of $50,000, which will mainly go towards food and accommodations, Ament said.
“We know there will be some medical needs, particularly for the three-year-old boy and the husband,” she said. “We don’t have a clear sense of what those are, but that has been flagged for us.”
At an upcoming meeting, the group will compile a list of the concrete things such as bedding and clothing that they’ll need to collect, she said.
While in many communities single church congregations are working towards supporting refugees, Ament said that, in St. Marys, she has witnessed an effort that has gone across denominations. “We are doing it ecumenically and in conjunction with the community,” she said. “I think that sends a really important message. There’s strength in partnership and community. Denomination lines don’t matter. Our faith may be a motivator, but in the end, the fact that we can all work together on it just says, as people, we care.”
Ament said the St. Marys Ministerial Association, which is open to all area churches across denominations, has already begun reaching out to local service and community groups about participating in the fundraising efforts. “People within town have already stepped up,” she said. “I’ve heard about a class at Little Falls who held a bake sale and they were going to be donating that money. Here within our congregation a portion of the proceeds from a recent pork roast supper will go in. The Community Players have already stepped forward and will be offering a ‘Night of Improv’ on Dec. 5 with all proceeds going to SMRSG. There’s an opportunity for people to come in in a variety of different ways.”
Ament said the easiest way to contribute to the group is to find them on Facebook (St. Marys Refugee Sponsorship Group), and click through the link there to Donate.MCCCanada.ca/registry/st-marys-refugee-sponsorship-group to donate.
For more information, contact Reverend Ament at Gwen.Ament@gmail.com.