A refugee family from northern Syria, a region that has experienced some of the heaviest fighting of the country’s civil war, is now living in the Anglican rectory in Haliburton, thanks to the efforts of the local church and the surrounding community.
Yousef and Ghiyab Wiso and their nine children have been living in the rectory beside St. George’s church since arriving in Haliburton last September. The village, with a population of just over 1,000, is located in the heart of cottage country, about a three-hour drive north of Toronto.
St. George’s used a grant from Our Faith-Our Hope, the diocese’s fundraising campaign, to fix up the five-bedroom building in preparation for the family’s arrival. “It was in really bad shape,” recalls the Rev. Canon Anne Moore, incumbent of the Parish of Haliburton.
The grant allowed the church to make major improvements such as putting in new plumbing, and local residents did the rest – cleaning, painting, laying carpet, installing kitchen cabinets and even planting a garden and flowers.
“It was just amazing,” says Canon Moore. “People really stepped up to the mark.”
The hospitality didn’t end there. As soon as word spread that the church would be sponsoring a refugee family, financial donations started to flow in. That was soon followed by clothes, parkas, furniture, toys, skates, bicycles, hand-knitted blankets and hand-made quilts for each bed. There was so much donated food that the freezer’s lid wouldn’t shut.
“We finally had to say to people that we had enough,” says Canon Moore. “It was just incredible how much came in. Everyone had seen the picture of the little Syrian boy on the beach and wanted to help.”
The family arrived in Toronto on Sept. 19, 2016. “To see the smiles on their faces at the airport was something I will never forget,” says Canon Moore.
Any concerns that the family might have trouble fitting in were soon put to rest. Shortly after arriving in Haliburton, they were taken on a guided tour of the village and people stopped their cars to welcome them.
The children, aged one to 19, loved the snow of the past winter, says Canon Moore. They wore snowsuits for the first time, went tobogganing and learned how to skate. All but the two youngest kids are in school, and the two oldest have part-time jobs in a local restaurant. The mother and father are taking ESL lessons, provided for free by retired teachers.
There is still much to do, but so much has been done already, says Canon Moore. “To see this community come together like this has been incredible,” she says.