Volunteers prepare for Syrian refugees’ arrival

Family slated to arrive next month

With a Syrian family set to arrive in Whistler in around a month, volunteers have kicked preparations into high gear.

“It’s very exciting news,” said Sarah Morden, board member of the Whistler Refugee Response group. “We’re pretty pumped… We have to continue our fundraising efforts; we recently agreed to partner with the World Ski and Snowboard Festival. The Best of the Fest will benefit the Whistler Refugee Response Group.”

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Fundraising from that event usually goes to Playground Builders, a local group that builds play areas in war-torn countries, but that organization stepped back to allow the festival to donate to the refugee fund this year.

While the group was surprised to learn that the family — set to arrive in mid to late April — would be all adults, they’ve come to the conclusion that they will be less complicated to support than a family with children, Morden said. “It’s kind of the best case scenario. Rather than one able-bodied person who can work we have five now,” she said.

The family — who were able to choose Whistler — consists of three women and two men, ages 56, 31 and 23 as well as two 30-year-olds. The mother recently became widowed while the two men were facing pressure to join both sides of the fight. “Their lives were threatened if they didn’t enlist,” Morden said.

A cousin, who worked as a beautician, was kidnapped and held for three days on her way to work. The family, who is currently in Lebanon, isn’t Muslim — which could be part of the reason they were open to living in a town without a mosque, Morden added.

While fundraising efforts continue, last weekend a group of volunteers began to spruce up the donated home the family will live in. Jason Ellis recruited some of his fellow fire fighters to help bring the house up to safety standards after he received a call from someone at Mountain Paint requesting assistance.

“It’s not too bad,” he said. “It’s an older Alpine cabin… (We’re) just bringing the house up to a safe level and making sure everything is OK for the family coming in.”

The group plans to work throughout the week and into next weekend to finish the renovations.

A local hardware store has pitched in around $400 of building material and Whistler Glass has fixed some of the cracked windows, Morden added. The fireplace and piping has also been replaced.

Ellis said he hadn’t thought much about the impact of the volunteer work. “I just think it’s a great opportunity for us to pitch in,” he said. “Me, personally, I’m glad I can do this… It is a good feeling when you think about it. It’s the whole community (helping).”

Some locals have already donated goods to furnish the home, but Morden said she’s waiting to talk to the family to find out what they need before they seek more donated items. “We’re going to contact the family through an interpreter to see what they need, how prepared they are for our climate,” she said.

Cheques can be dropped off at Municipal Hall and at Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church — payable to the church care of the Syrian Refugee Fund. The group also has a GoFundMe page set up at www.gofundme.com/7hqurmyk.

“We’re still a little short (of the $70,000 required), probably around $10,000 out,” Morden said. “The more we raise, the more likely it is that we can bring another family here.”

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