“You start out by thinking that you are helping a family but then you realize that you are actually helping yourself…” A local Victoria Constituent Group reflect on what it means to be able to sponsor a refugee family.
ICA Interview with Constituent Member, Brenda Henderson
How many people are part of your Constituent Group?
There are 7 of us. We call ourselves “The Group of 7.”
How did you come together?
Like many people, I saw the heartbreaking photo of Alan Kurdi and I realized that our government should be doing more to help refugees, and I should be doing more to help refugees. I heard about a “Refugees are Welcome” rally in downtown Victoria and I decided to attend. At that rally, I heard Reverend Bruce Bryant-Scott of St. Matthias Anglican Church speak and he encouraged interested citizens to attend a meeting about private sponsorship of refugees. A good friend, Saija Tissari, and I attended this meeting together (along with about 300 other Victorians) and we came away from that meeting inspired to form a constituent group. At the initial meeting held by Reverend Bryant-Scott, it was indicated that 7-10 people is optimal for a constituent group so we set upon finding some other friends who we thought would be enthusiastic about this project. Five of our friends responded quickly and enthusiastically that they would be happy to help us bring a family of refugees to Canada. Thus, the “Group of 7” was born.
Are there any special skills your CG has that you would like to share?
The beauty of bringing refugees to Canada is that one doesn’t actually need any special skills, just a willingness to help others (although fundraising knowledge is really helpful, too)! Our constituent group is made up of 7 ordinary Canadians and I would encourage others to consider forming or joining a constituent group. It has been a very rewarding experience.
What have some of your fundraising efforts been?
When we were initially matched with a family from the BVOR (blended visa-office referred) list, we were required to deposit $25,000 in less than two weeks. We knew that we were not going to have time to organize any fundraising events in that window of time so we asked for financial donations from those people close to us. We each approached close friends and family members and raised $33,000 in 9 days. I think the short time frame really helped us because people knew that they had to act quickly and they had to act generously if we were going to be successful in sponsoring this family. The last $10,000 that we needed trickled in over the last few weeks.
Are you able to describe your experience as part of a CG thus far?
I overheard a man on the radio mention that you start out by thinking that you are helping a family but then you realize that you are actually helping yourself. Being part of this constituent group has been absolutely fantastic. The women in my constituent group are generous, compassionate and organized and we have been absolutely overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of friends, family and strangers. In addition, forging relationships with members of other constituent groups and members of the Victoria mosque has been really life enriching.
Have you been matched with a refugee family?
Yes. We have been matched with a family of 5 from the BVOR list.
Did you get to choose the refugee or refugee family you are sponsoring?
Yes, although we received guidance from ICA. Sabine Lehr, Private Sponsorship of Refugees Manager at ICA advised us of a family of 5 from the BVOR list that needed resettlement and we said sure.
Can you tell us a little bit about the refugee or refugee family?
The family is currently in Lebanon and has been displaced from Syria for at least 2 years. The family is comprised of a mother and father, 2 school aged children and a toddler.
Thank you to Brenda and the Group of 7 for being open to sharing their experience!