In Lebanon, a Syrian mother named Amoun, her two daughters and her brother Bassel are waiting to board a plane to Canada. They, like many others, have been waiting for several months.
In Nepean, a group of allies is waiting to welcome them. The members are Canadian, but they’re also Syrian, Chinese, Indian and Dutch: people who made a similar trip years before. And if they didn’t, their ancestors did.
One of those allies is Amoun and Bassel’s sister Soha, who came to Canada with her daughter to join her husband 10 years ago. She now lives in the Crystal Beach-Lakeview area with her family, which has grown to include three sons.
“I feel I'm a part of Canada and I like it and I'm happy to have this citizenship,” she said. “And I wish my sister and my brother and the girls get the citizenship also, and enjoy living in Canada and as citizens here.”
Soha did not want to use her last name because it is the same name her sister uses.
She’s worried the Lebanese government will track Amoun and her family down and deport them to Syria, where Soha said Amoun’s husband is in prison for refusing to participate in the country’s civil war. The family doesn’t know when or if he’ll be released and they live in fear that Amoun and her children will be detected in Lebanon. So she’s playing it safe.
Soha also doesn’t know when her brother, sister and nieces will arrive, but she wants the same security and opportunity for them that she and her family have enjoyed in Canada. She said her nieces haven’t been to school in two years as a result of the war in Syria.
“It's a long time, and the girls are out of school and I'm not comfortable with that,” she said. “I want them to come here and have a life and a future and go to school like my kids.”
And while she truly believes they’ll make it to Canada, the passing of time leaves room for anxiety to creep in.
“As a human, you always worry when it's a long waiting time,” she said. “I'm worried about what might happen to them while they are (in Lebanon) waiting.”
“At the beginning I used to buy stuff for the girls because I was sure they would come, but after six months I began to slow down because I was worried they wouldn’t. I want to bring them here to have a future and safety in Canada.”
She’s not alone and, fortunately, she’s got friends in Ottawa to keep her busy while she waits.
Carol Ann MacDonell, her husband Jon and a few neighbours formed the Crystal Beach/Lakeview Refugee Support Group in late 2015 after one of the members met Soha and heard her sister’s story at a refugee sponsorship meeting hosted by the city.
“By an incredible coincidence, he wound up sitting next to someone he didn’t know, but whose family needed to be rescued from Syria,” MacDonell said. “And it turned out that they were neighbours and lived a few blocks apart. So we decided that was the family that we were going to support.”
Since then, the group has raised close to the $35,000 needed to bring Amoun, her daughters and, eventually, her husband to Canada.
It wasn’t until after they began campaigning that they learned about the single brother who helped Amoun and her children flee from Syria to Lebanon and pledged to sponsor him too.
“Her brother had shepherded them out of Syria and got them as far as Lebanon,” she said, adding that the idea of a supportive bachelor uncle hit close to home for her.
When MacDonell was a child, her father became sick with early onset Parkinson’s Disease, possibly related to a plane crash he survived during the Second World War. While his health deteriorated, MacDonell’s uncle, Pat Martin, stepped in and took care of her and her sister.
“I’m sure my parents went through severe financial and emotional hardships,” she said. “But my sister and I were not aware of it because we were so well taken care of by relatives, including this bachelor uncle.”
So on April 1, MacDonell, her husband and their neighbours will push for the final $8,000 needed to bring Bassel to Canada with a fundraising party at Villa Lucia, 3430 Carling Ave.
These might sound like large sums of money, but MacDonell said the sponsorship group has fewer expenses than some, since the family will live with Soha in her home for the first year, rather than renting their own apartment.
“That’s huge," she said. "That’s approximately $10,000 to $12,000 right off the bat that gets kind of knocked off the (fundraising) requirement.”
MacDonell hopes live music, a festive atmosphere and the prizes up for grabs, as well as live and silent auctions and a raffle, will entice Crystal Beach and Lakeview residents to pay the $20 admission and come to the party. The entertainment lineup includes local band Samsara and musicians Lee Jessen, Robert Farrell, Ann Whitely-Gillen, Claude Plamondon, and Robin Tench. Among the prizes on the line are Ottawa Senators game tickets, a golfing lesson with a pro, wine tours, passes for "glamping" – glamorous camping – at Wesley Clover Parks, and more.
If she knows her community though, she said, the real hook will be the chance to help keep a family together.
“I think my community has huge hearts and are very willing to support me in opening their wallets for such a worthy cause,” she said.
“And families should not be separated. Bachelor uncles are hugely important to me and my relatives and I think that those little girls deserve to have their uncle with them.”
The Crystal Beach-Lakeview Refugee Fundraiser will run April 1, from 7 to 11:30 p.m.
For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit goo.gl/dOS2WP, or email Carol Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org.