It was standing room only at Mainway Recreation Centre on the evening of December 1 (ironically, also #GivingTuesday) for the Syria Action Burlington public meeting, with about 250 people attending.
Hosted by Mayor Rick Goldring and the City of Burlington, this meeting brought together a diverse group of passionate and compassionate members of our community: faith-based groups, service clubs (including the Social Justice Committee at Lester B. Pearson High School and McMaster Student Union), businesspeople, and individuals ready and willing to help in any way they can. Many community organizations were represented including the Halton Multicultural Council, YMCA, Partnership West Food Bank, and Compassion Society, among others. Speakers included Mayor Goldring, MP Karina Gould, MPP Eleanor McMahon, and representatives from Halton Region, Wesley’s Urban Ministries, and Lifeline Syria.
Karina Gould (whose own grandparents were refugees to Canada many years ago) talked about the government’s detailed plan to bring refugees to Canada, a 5-phase process that will involve identification, screening, transportation, welcome and support in settlement. If there’s one country that can handle 25,000 refugees, she said, it’s Canada. This is a national initiative, one where we all will have a role to play.
Check out canada.ca/refugees to learn more. And make sure to share your story using #welcomerefugees – this is a great way to inspire and encourage others.
Eleanor McMahon spoke of the need for our community to come together and figure out how we’re going to welcome refugees to our community. She asked us to think about when was the last time these refugees slept in a bed? Or had a soft pillow? Or felt comfortable and safe? We are so incredibly privileged and have much to share.
Check out ontario.ca/syrianrefugees to learn more. The premiers of each province have been briefed by the Prime Minister, and are working together to respond to this rapidly evolving situation. Everyone can play a part.
This meeting was truly a meeting of a generous group of people. Facilitator Steve Howse spoke of putting our minds and hearts and dollars together into a melting pot. We will need to be generous with our minds (ideas), hearts and dollars to provide a warm welcome and successful resettlement to families who are desperate for hope and security. Again, everyone has something to contribute.
The second half of the meeting provided the audience the chance to discuss two questions: How are we going to make these people a part of our community? How are we going to engage them?
Audience members took advantage of the open mic to speak from their various experiences and to share their ideas and expertise: community supports and service clubs; immigrants and refugees who are currently living and thriving in Burlington and have first-hand knowledge of some of the challenges and joys of sponsoring refugees; faith groups that have already or are currently in the process of sponsoring a family; a young girl who is raising money to buy stuffed animals to give to refugee children; a disabled woman who offered the second room in her home – it was all she could offer and it was her best gift; offers of jobs, and skills training and translation services and having children meet refugee children at the airport, and so much more. The offers were countless, powerful and heartfelt. Such a proud time to not just be a Canadian, but to be a Burlingtonian.
It is humbling to think that Burlington can be a small part of the solution in this huge refugee crisis that our world is facing. This meeting, the first conversation of many to come, is just the beginning. Especially in this holiday season, think of how you might give to this important cause – will it be your ideas? Your heart? Your dollars? All are needed and so necessary.
In the words of Mayor Goldring: “We are a caring, compassionate community.”
Is this what Peace on Earth might look like?
For further information on how you can help, email firstname.lastname@example.org, and make sure to visit the various links listed above. For regular updates from the City, visit www.burlington.ca/welcomesyria
Teresa Baerg is a writer, editor and self-confessed word-nerd who loves telling a good story. She is proud to call Burlington home for over a decade. She is passionate about her family, sunshine and palm trees, growing veggies, running and cycling, good books, good food and good coffee. And football. Twitter: @teresabaerg Instagram: @teresabaerg Website: teresakbaerg.com
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