MCC’s Refugee Resettlement Network works with private sponsorship groups across Canada to help them welcome newcomers. The joys and challenges faced by each group are unique. Throughout the journey, MCC is there to provide support, encouragement and resources to help sponsorship groups thrive.
The sponsorship journey
Finding a home
Every sponsor group’s situation is different. MCC’s refugee resettlement co-ordinators connect sponsor groups to each other to form informal networks where groups learn from one another’s experiences.
Cate and the rest of her sponsor group were ecstatic—they’d finally heard confirmation that the Alkhtab family from Syria would be landing in Winnipeg in just a few weeks. They also realized all of their planning had just gone from “eventually” to “immediately.” The most urgent task was securing a place to stay for the incoming three-generation family of eight.
Finding a suitable place on a tight timeframe can be a real challenge for sponsor groups, but when Cate called MCC, her refugee resettlement co-ordinator had a solution in mind. A church in Winnipeg that had sponsored dozens of refugee families through MCC had bought their own townhouse so they’d always have a place for incoming families, and it worked out that their home would be empty when the Alkhtabs arrived.
When Cate and her group met with the church’s team at the townhouse to go over details, they immediately felt a shared connection. Cate and her group met with members of the church team regularly throughout the year and learned from their many years of experience.
They’d settled so many families, they supported the work we were doing and understood what we were about to experience. MCC really made that link for us to get the house and really what we got was this informal mentorship.”
- Cate Friesen, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Creating a budget
MCC’s refugee resettlement co-ordinators provide sponsoring groups with tools and information on how to help new families navigate new financial and social responsibilities.
Ali privately sponsored Pauline and her five children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo for resettlement through MCC nearly 20 years ago. One of the first things MCC’s resettlement co-ordinators make sure sponsors understand is their responsibility to fundraise enough money for newcomers to live on for the first year and to guide them through the challenges of a new country’s costs and expenses.
When they arrived, Ali’s first priority was to work with Pauline to create a budget and help her understand her different financial obligations—how much to expect food and utilities will cost, how to apply for child tax credits and other factors.
Ali’s hope was to help Pauline effectively manage her money until she could find work and move herself into a place of greater financial freedom. With Ali’s help, Pauline managed to find a job quickly and, within just a few years of landing in Canada, buy a house for her and her children.
With Pauline’s financial freedom came her independence. I think it is important for us all to gain that freedom, it makes us feel like we have some control.”
- Ali Henderson, Calgary, Alberta
MCC’s refugee resettlement co-ordinators are experts on all the procedures involved in legally bringing over refugees and are committed to helping sponsor groups navigate the many systems in play.
Phyllis has been involved in refugee resettlement since 1978 and has sponsored dozens of refugees through MCC in that time. So when she sponsored Nahid* and his family from Afghanistan in 2002, her experience carried them through the process without a hitch. Even when, a few years into living in Canada, Nahid asked if Phyllis would consider sponsoring his sister, Najai*, who was still living in a refugee camp in India, she didn’t hesitate to start the paperwork on her own.
It was not a quick process, but Phyllis worked with MCC to locate and connect with Najai and her three kids and in 2018 brought them over to Canada to be with their family. And then something came up that Phyllis had never dealt with in four decades of working with refugees.
Nahid, now a permanent resident in Canada, was arranged to be married to a woman back in India and, because Najai arranged it, the family felt it non-negotiable that she be present at her brother’s wedding. Unfortunately, Najai’s refugee status meant any international travel would be difficult at best and impossible at worst.
Phyllis’ resettlement co-ordinator shared all the possibilities and risks of Najai travelling as a refugee. They worked with the family to build as safe a travel plan as possible so she could attend the wedding in India and be with her family on such an important day.
*Names in this story have been changed for security purposes
“Najai was so grateful to MCC for helping her get here and then they continued to help her so much. Without MCC’s help, I don’t even know how we would have begun to handle it.”
- Phyllis Goertz, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
A welcoming feast
MCC’s refugee resettlement co-ordinators work with every sponsor group to ensure they’re equipped to help newcomers build lasting relationships and thrive in their new setting.
When Heather’s church group sponsored the Teklemichael family from Eritrea to come to the small rural community of Boissevain, Man., she was determined to make sure they’d feel welcome.
She’d connected with Ezra, an Eritrean man from a nearby city, to learn about the culture and for some help translating at the airport arrival. When the Teklemichaels disembarked safely after more than 24 hours of travel, they still had a three-hour drive to their new home ahead of them. As they were about to depart, Ezra told Heather that his family had prepared a welcome feast and they were all invited to his home to celebrate the new family in the traditional Eritrean way.
As the clock ticked well past midnight, more than a dozen people shuffled into Ezra’s house, now filled with the aroma of berbere spice and a multi-course meal. Heather could only imagine the comfort that the familiar Eritrean stew and injera flatbread would provide the family, thousands of kilometres from everything they knew.
Heather’s church would go on to sponsor a number of families from Eritrea, each of them arriving to an Eritrean welcome feast prepared by the Teklemichael family in Boissevain.
We had the MCC rep on speed-dial, on text, on email—we were constantly reaching out and always got a response when we needed something. They were amazing.”
- Heather Goertzen, Boissevain, Manitoba
A new story begins
MCC’s refugee resettlement co-ordinators are dedicated in their work to helping people escape conflict and disaster to start their new life. But their work is only part of the story. Once refugees are resettled, a new story begins—where a community accepts newcomers, building a newer, stronger community.
In September 2015, people all across Canada wanted to get involved in responding to the war in Syria and helping refugees who were fleeing find new homes. Brian Dyck, MCC Canada refugee migration and resettlement co-ordinator, was invited to the small town of Altona, Man., where potential sponsor group was holding a community prayer to discern if they would sponsor Syrian refugees.
“A group had gathered in an open lot near the middle of the town,” he says. “People who’d resettled in Altona from all over the world—Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Colombia and more—came up and spoke about their experience of coming to this town of 4,000 people and finding a welcoming home that gave them a new start.
“I remembered these people mostly by their paperwork that had been on my desk years earlier. What I saw that evening, though, was the rest of the story that I don’t often get to see: how a community took them in and made them part of their own story. As I travelled back to Winnipeg that evening, I knew that it was not a matter of “if” the people would be sponsoring Syrians, but a question of how many.”
Altona would go on to welcome 40 Syrian refugees to the community in the following years.