Growing again: New Syrian families welcomed to community

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The word “flurry” comes to mind for Sarah MacIntosh-Wiseman.

It’s been a busy few weeks for the chairperson and other volunteers of Pictou County Safe Harbour, getting five homes set up for families from Syria.

“All it took was the wonderful people who come out of the woodwork to help,” she said about getting things ready.

The last of the five newcomer families have arrived, landing at the Halifax airport where they met with Safe Harbour volunteers and Rania Almethyb, who is part of the first family sponsored by the group and has been the “best face of welcome.”

“She has been through the experience they’ve been through,” MacIntosh-Wiseman said.

“By the time the families have arrived in New Glasgow, Rania has answered their questions and reassured them the area is a “safe and welcoming and warm place to come to,” MacIntosh-Wiseman said. All of their new homes are on the east side of New Glasgow so that they’re close to basic amenities, each other, and within the catchment area of New Glasgow Academy.

The process to bring the five newest Syrian families to New Glasgow began a little over a month ago and came to fruition quicker than the resettlement of other families because of new funding that was available.

Safe Harbour was able to access support through the Blended Visa Office-Referred Program (BVOR), which shares costs for sponsorship of families identified for resettlement between the federal government, and The University of Ottawa Refugee Hub, the Shapiro Foundation, and Jewish Family Services Ottawa.

Communities Assisting Refugees Now (CAiRN) used the same funding to bring two Syrian families to Pictou earlier this month.

The expedited process has meant a different structure for Safe Harbour with “master organizer” Cathy Hanley watching the group’s email address for people sending in lists of items they had available to donate. The group broke into five teams, MacIntosh-Wiseman said, with a team lead for each new family in order to make things more manageable.

MacIntosh-Wiseman said Safe Harbour was “very thoughtful” in the number of families they said they could welcome to the area, choosing a larger number because it would enable them to work with other organizations to create more resources and infrastructure for newcomer families all over the county that will help them be self-sufficient after the sponsorship period is over.

“What we talked about is if we could get to a point of bringing multiple families, it gets to that point of having critical mass to doing things on a group basis as opposed to individual,” she said, adding that local private donors are willing to help them hire a newcomer service coordinator to assist with resettlement and examining services they can build upon. The group has also been working with the YMCA to see how they can build on language classes and what can be provided in terms of transportation and childcare for those attending them. From there, MacIntosh-Wiseman said they want to focus on employment-related skills and what kind of group offerings can be provided, which could potentially benefit other community members, too.

MacIntosh-Wiseman said the group was meeting with families over the weekend to share information about what day-to-day life in Canada is like. Language is their next big focus, she said, and added that they are seeking volunteers with teaching experience for adult language classes and tutoring for children.

Anyone interested can email