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Stirling steps up to face the refugee crisis

Refugee Response Stirling Group Photo. Front row Left to right: Sophie Noel, Esther Noel, Heather Bailey, Shari Elson O'Garr, Pam Gray, Kerry Shudall, and Melanie Linn. Back row: Mark Zomer, Michelle Zomer, Jason Kirby and Amanda Kirby. The group has been meeting since September to bring two Syrian refugee families to Stirling. Photo by Emma Persaud, QNet News [1]

The members of Refugee Response Stirling are (back row, from left) Mark Zomer, Michelle Zomer, Jason Kirby and Amanda Kirby; (front row, from left) Sophie Noel, Esther Noel, Heather Bailey, Shari Elson O’Garr, Pam Gray, Kerry Shudall and Melanie Linn. Joining them is Sandy the dog. The group has been meeting since September to bring two Syrian refugee families to Stirling. Photo by Emma Persaud, QNet News

By Emma Persaud [2]

STIRLING – Esther Noel says that helping others is just part of her DNA.

When she was 10 years old, Noel’s parents sponsored a family of 10 to come to Canada from Vietnam. Little did she know that, as a parent herself, she would be following in their footsteps.

“My mom and dad had a real gift of hospitality,” the Stirling resident said. “I would have to say that I love hospitality too. To say, ‘Well, these people need something, and we have something, so we should get together’ seemed the most natural thing.”

Refugee Response Stirling [3]From that inclination came Refugee Response Stirling [4]. Fellow member Kerry Shudall said that the moment she saw the picture of three-year-old Syrian refugee [5] Alan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach, she knew she had to do something. She spoke with Noel and together they gathered more friends to create the current group of nine members.

Refugee Response Stirling has been meeting since September to work on sponsoring not one but two Syrian families.

“We were worried about the isolation a Syrian family would feel out here, unlike in Toronto,” said Mark Zomer, another member.

The plan is to have the first family recommended by the United Nations, and the following family be referred by the first one, Zomer said. That way they can ask for friends or family to join them in the village of Stirling.

The group has partnered with the Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge [6] to help manage the complex financial duties that accompany sponsorship.

According to the Ryerson group, it costs $27,000 to bring a family of four to Canada. Multiply that by two, and it will cost $54,000 to welcome these families to Stirling.

Shudall said that the group has also made sure that Lifeline Syria Challenge knows Stirling is a rural community. The hope, she said, is that the group will end up sponsoring rural Syrians who might be willing to work on farms and are at least somewhat prepared to be a part of rural life.

“One of the things that is a big oversight is that people here think that people from Syria are from the city,” she said. “And they’re not. There are a lot of farmers in Syria, a lot of rural areas in Syria. They’re not all city people.”

So far the group’s members have only been turning to friends and personal contacts for donations, which has allowed them to raise over $8,000 in the past month. Now Refugee Response Stirling is turning its gaze outward to the larger community by having a meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 27.

“We haven’t put the push on yet because we wanted to do it at the launch,” Shudall said. “We’re hoping that community groups will make this a priority for their own fundraising. We want the community involved in this. They ask how they can help, and this is the best way.”

Refugee Response Stirling’s community meeting will be at the Stirling Public School on Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. Everyone is welcome.

Share your thoughts at Twitter @PersuadEmma [7]