65 volunteers got together at the Okanagan College on Saturday, March 12, to discuss ways to help refugee families coming to the Okanagan. “A very diverse group showed up,” says Christian, a 32 year old local co-op manager. “Students, retired individuals, business owners, and young parents all are here.”
Organisers were pleased with the turnout, “It shows that Kelowna is ready to step up and help”, says Norah Bowman, from the Okanagan Refugee Coalition for Advocacy (ORCA), the group who organised the event with the support of Kelowna Community Resources (KCR) and the Okanagan College Faculty Association (OCFA).
During a problem-solving activity, people were presented with day-to-day challenges refugee families might be going through. Issues such as ESL training, job market orientation, child-minding, trades certification and affordable housing were seen as the most important community efforts that can support the welcoming of newcomers. “ORCA is building teams, or ‘pods’, to support refugees, much like an extended family”, says Francis Langevin (ORCA).
“Family to family volunteering is one of the options we are offering people who want to get involved. The Syrian family that we sponsored are some of our closest friends in Kelowna now. They reminded us of the joy that is available in community and to slow down and take time out of our busy schedules to just enjoy each other's company,” said Jamie Henderson during the Q&A panel. Henderson is part of groups sponsoring two families with the help of the Mission Creek Alliance. “Kelowna is a city with huge capacity, resources, and a heart to give back. While we cannot solve the entire crisis, we can do our fair share to include these families, who are just like our own, in the privilege that we enjoy as Canadians,” Henderson continued.
Syrian-Canadian Alya Ramadan also spoke of her own integration to Kelowna: “The friendship network these new families and individuals build makes a huge difference in our community.”
Participants got the opportunity to meet with representatives of Settlement and Immigration Services from KCR, as well as representatives from the Kelowna Islamic Center. “It is very heartwarming to see how many different organisations have come up to offer their support, people from very different backgrounds and faiths”, says Khalid Arriani, President of the Islamic Center.
ORCA (Okanagan Refugee Coalition for Advocacy) is a grassroots volunteer group who has a vision of welcoming, diverse, communities in which all people live in dignity.
People can get more information and sign up at the group’s website (orcabc.org) to become a pod member or to volunteer with ORCA’s broader initiatives.