January 15, 2015
The Al Homosh family is currently in Egypt waiting for paperwork to process//Supplied
Efforts to embrace Syrians connecting Jasperites
The helping of refugee families thousands of kilometres away has brought together two Jasperites who hardly knew each other.
Two months ago, Beth Tower and Nancy Addison didn’t really travel in the same circles. Now, thanks to their efforts to bring two separate families from war-torn Syria to Jasper, they speak almost everyday.
“Now I feel like we’ve known each other forever,” Tower said.
Tower and Addison have bonded over the trials and tribulations of filling out arduous government forms; of arranging accommodations, home furnishings and other basic necessities for the families upon their arrival; of reading the heart-wrenching emails from the displaced Syrians; and of defending their actions to a small but vocal minority of internet users who derail the positive progress with unhelpful and even xenophobic comments.
“We’ve learned the best response to those comments, is no response,” said Addison. “At some point you’re not dealing with reason.”
Instead, the women are trying to focus on what they can do to make a difference in the lives of the people they’ve pledged to help. Tower said getting emails from Omar Al Homosh and especially, his wife Rola, has made the efforts to extricate them and their three children from Cairo, where they are all currently waiting, all the more meaningful.
“You get so emotionally attached,” Tower said. “I wake up everyday thinking of new things they’ll need.”
Things like towels, or a rice cooker, or even dental floss. Happily, other Jasperites have answered the call.
“We’re trying not to buy stuff, if we can get it donated,” Addison said.
On January 14, Karuzos Steakhouse hosted Sweets for Syria, one of several local initiatives to raise money for the families. According to the Anglican Diocese, the Edmonton-based organization which is facilitating the arrival of Syrian refugees all over Alberta, a family of five such as Al Homosh’s should start with about $45,000 to get on their feet. A family of three (the family Addison has reached out to consists of 30-year-old Reham Azem and her parents, Hassan and Omayea) should be able to get started in Canada for about $35,000. For that reason, Jasper fundraisers are hoping to raise $80,000 (the estimates are based on a year of living with the assumption that able family members will find work as soon as possible).
“Reham has told me she’s so optimistic for her future in Canada,” Nancy said.
Both families have come a long way already. After Al Homosh fled to Egypt through Lebanon, he still had to find work. He did so in Iraq, but the political situation was untenable there, too. He then went to Turkey, where they withheld his exit visa. In total, he spent 241 days not knowing if he’d ever see his children again.
“I think if I couldn’t reach my kids, I’d count the days too.” Addison said.
Today, the counting continues. Addison has been “on pins and needles” waiting for word from the Canadian embassy in Beirut. Azem and her parents’ documents have cleared; but on January 13 they were still waiting for the final piece—a flight out of Lebanon.
As for Al Homosh, his family is still in Egypt. The Towers are trying to stay as optimistic as possible about their friends’ prospects; they recently sent in a stack of paperwork to the Canadian government after getting it triple-checked by Beth’s sister, an immigration lawyer.
In the meantime, the community of Jasper is buoying the group’s spirits. Anonymous donations, neighbours lending their time to fix-it projects, people dropping off furniture…the generosity on display is mind blowing, Addison said.
“I’m so proud, so optimistic,” she said. “I described this place to Reham as a storybook. I told her ‘you’ll be embraced.’”
The Towers agreed.
“The community is the hero through this whole thing,” Rod said.