The Cowichan Valley is coming together to provide a home for Syrian refugees.
The restoration of a large four-bedroom house in the Satellite Park neighbourhood of Cobble Hill is progressing well, spearheaded by project leaders Terry and Beth Black and helped by tremendous support from neighbours and local businesses.
“Every vendor, every person who’s supported us in this project is just wonderful. It’s really an amazing story,” said Terry, noting the biggest challenge for Syrian refugees arriving in Canada is finding housing.
Terry’s daughter Katie practises law in Ottawa and is volunteer co-ordinator for a pro bono program that trains lawyers to help refugees. Her work inspired Terry and Beth to get involved in helping Syrian refugee families being brought in by the federal government in conjunction with the Cowichan Intercultural Society.
“I look up and here’s John’s house and I turned to Beth and said ‘there’s an opportunity,’” said Terry, noting the house can fit a large family and perhaps even several relatives or another small family.
The house had been badly damaged by its last occupants with boats and old vehicles left around the yard, and owner John Humber couldn’t afford necessary repairs to rent it out again. However, he was agreeable to it being used by Syrian refugees if it could be fixed up. That’s where Satellite Park neighbours came in, offering to provide volunteer labour. Donations, supplies and services began pouring in from local businesses and individuals.
“It really has been a wonderful experience,” Terry said, reading over an email he received from a community member offering lamps. “I get emails like this all the time.”
For the past five weeks, the couple and their neighbours, all retired, have been working full days almost every day to get the house ready.
Walls have been repaired and painted, carpets replaced, baseboard heaters replaced, a new kitchen and stove put in, new bathroom fixtures, showers and toilets installed. A repair of the broken septic system is currently underway by Save-On-Septic and a neighbour has also offered a car for the incoming refugees.
The federal government under Trudeau has taken in over 26,000 Syrian refugees thus far, with an additional smaller number of around 1,500 Syrian refugees who’d already been taken in under the Harper government. In total 55,800 refugees from Syria and other parts of the world are expected to arrive by the end of 2016 through both government and private sponsorship as well as family reunification programs.
There are currently approximately 200 government-sponsored refugees on the Island, primarily in Victoria. The Cowichan Valley has welcomed two Syrian refugee families so far, with many more expected over the course of the year.
“The area, in terms of settlement resources, is well supported by the Cowichan Intercultural Society who is organizing English Language courses, job training, school arrangements and the list goes on,” Terry said, adding that CIS expects between five and 12 families to arrive by mid-March.
As for those who oppose Canada accepting Syrian refugees or believe they pose a security risk, Terry said that he takes it in stride.
“This one lady I talked to, her son is in Iraq, and she says ‘I’m sorry but I can’t really help you ‘cause my son has been living with those people and he doesn’t have really good stories about what they do, how they live.’ So I just don’t say anything. I say thanks for taking the time to hear our story,” Terry said, adding that he has confidence in the federal government’s refugee screening process.
“All of these people coming to the country have been vetted. We have very little risk of any immigrating here that could cause us any sort of a terrorist risk,” he said.
Refugees, in fact, are often victims themselves of terrorism and dictatorial governments.
“They’ve been living in an environment where they’ve been losing family members on a regular basis and having the hell beat out of their homes to the point where they can’t stay,” Terry said, adding that the Syrian civil war is “an abysmal situation for humans to inflict upon humans.”
More than half of Syria’s population has fled the country as refugees or have become internally displaced due to the ongoing civil war. Approximately half of these 12 million refugees are children according to the Immigrant Services Society of BC. According to the Guardian newspaper in the U.K., in the five years since the Syrian civil war began over 400,000 Syrians have been killed and more than 70,000 have died from lack of necessities such as clean water and health care.
Ultimately Terry said he hopes the government can bring in even more Syrian refugees than its stated goal and that people hearing what Satellite Park residents have done will be inspired to follow suit.
“Maybe people will look at what we’re doing and maybe know of a house and say ‘that’s a good idea, why can’t we do that for Syrian refugees?” he said. “We’re just champing at the bit to find out who we’re getting, what’s the family going to be like?”
Those interested in helping with a donation or items for the house may email Terry and Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 778-356-0470.
Satellite Park residents who have helped Terry and Beth include Carol and Rick Scott, Frank Statham, John Krug, Joe Davis, Barbara Thompson, Chris Koehn, Bob Holland, Richard Calverley, Ridley Wikkerink, Francis and David Derkson and Shirley and Al Crossen, who gave a discount on their old kitchen counters and cupboards to help outfit the home.
Business helpers have included Chad Gurski of Valley Carpet One and End of the Roll Carpets for replacing all floor coverings, Cam McLean of Keel Hauling for taking away a 28-foot boat, Coastal Environmental for disposing of it, Sears for supplying a new washing machine and dryer, Doran and Sons Plumbing, Godolphin Tree Service, Sleep Country for supplying two twin beds, Windsor Plywood for a new front door, Central Landscaping for their help making the yard beautiful, E.B. Horsman for electrical parts, Frances Kelsey Secondary School dry grad for taking two cars and a trailer of 2.5 tonnes of metal to recycling, DL Bins for supplying and emptying bins, Rona Cobble Hill and Home Depot for gift cards and Benjamin Moore for providing all paint and painting supplies.
More than $1,200 in donations have also been received from residents in the neighbourhood who didn’t have time to help, and many have offered furniture and household items such as cutlery.