A year after their arrival in Canada, an extended family of Syrian refugees were the guests of honour at a festive celebration at San Lorenzo-Dufferin Ave. in Toronto on Jan. 15.
The two families, 13 people in all, were sponsored in 2015 by two Presbyterian churches – St. Andrew, Humber Heights and St. Timothy, Etobicoke – and three Anglian churches, St. Philip, Etobicoke, St. George on-the-Hill, Toronto and San Lorenzo-Dufferin Ave.
During the past year, the Rev. Hernan Astudillo and his congregation at San Lorenzo had not yet had the opportunity to welcome and greet the families. “It was a chance for them to see the people that they had helped to bring to Canada,” says Margaret Henderson, a member of St. Andrew’s who sits on the sponsorship committee. “It was just a very joyful time.”
The families, who are Christian, helped lead the service. Christine and Carol, both teenagers, sang a few songs, and their mother and aunt served at the altar during the Eucharist.
The sponsorship project began with Hanna Bytion, a longtime member of St. Andrew’s whose brother and sister were living in Syria with their families. She had been trying to sponsor her brother and sister-in-law, along with their six children, without much success. “In the meantime, she’d asked our church if we might bring her sister, so we approached the other churches,” says Ms. Henderson. “When the other application didn’t work out, we took that one on as well.”
With the help of the churches, the applications for both families were approved. Ms. Bytion’s sister Poline and her four children arrived first, on Dec. 10, 2015. “They came on the first plane from Syria, so that was quite exciting to be part of the first group,” says Ms. Henderson. The second family followed a few weeks later.
“When they first came, the 13 of them, they all lived with their sister, and that was a pretty crowded situation,” says Ms. Henderson. “They then found other places to rent, and so they’re in their own places now.” Several of them have found work in family members’ businesses, and they are determined to support themselves financially.
They are also eager to keep sharing the hospitality they’ve received. “They’re very appreciative and friendly, and when you go into their homes … you can’t leave without having something to eat,” says Ms. Henderson.
The families, in particular the women and girls, have found a church home at St. Andrew’s. “We’ve really enjoyed having them there. The teenage girls are very lively, and they enjoy participating,” she says.
As the families continue to thrive in Canada more than a year after their arrival, Ms. Henderson says she is struck by their determination to succeed. “They didn’t bring much with them, but they’re able to survive doing their own work,” she says. “It’s been kind of amazing how they’ve done that.”