Refugees continue to find support in Waterloo Region, even in the small rural villages.
Floradale Mennonite Church hosted a fundraising lunch last weekend, with the proceeds being split between Mennonite Central Committee’s refugee supports and the Intercultural Dialogue Institute, which is active at Conrad Grebel College in Waterloo.
“It was really nice just to see these two groups come together and talk about their lives and relating to each other’s stories. There’s not a lot of opportunities to do that and take the time, so I think creating these types of spaces and opportunities is important and helpful,” said Leon Kehl, Floradale Mennonite Church’s missions chairperson.
About 150 people came out who raised $1,700, and some 25 people came from the local Turkish community.
The meal was prepared by the Turkish community, including Turkish refugees who are staying in Floradale.
The church has created a generosity fund which is used to help other organizations support refugees. They’ve also pledged $60,000 to help MCC with refugee support.
Two Turkish refugees are staying with Kehl’s parents in Floradale.
“It was actually through a contact at IDI and because of the political situation in Turkey and that they have families, they were specifically looking for a non-Turkish, non-Muslim, English speaking household because they don’t want to be public, or that could expose their remaining family members to danger,” Kehl explained.
They plan to stay in Canada as permanent refugees. One was a journalist and one was a high school principal. They’re going to school for English language training and the former high school principal has done some catering for families in the area.
They’ve been staying in Floradale since December.
“The one fellow’s a really good cook. They showed up on Dec. 11. My wife’s birthday is Dec. 12 and he wants to open a restaurant. I said ‘I’m at work tomorrow, would you like to cook for my wife for her birthday party?’ And he said ‘sure.’ So they did that and it was a wonderful meal.”
Kehl says he’s been encouraging him to open a Turkish restaurant in Elmira.
He adds they’ve been warmly received by the church and the Floradale community, and the benefit goes both ways.
“I think it creates an awareness of some of these events that are happening in the world. Also, awareness of the common parts of our faith. These particular people are really wired to service and helping people. There’s a lot of commonalities in that and Mennonite traditions. That’s, I think, been helpful for people in our church to realize in many ways we’re very similar,” Kehl said.
Kitchener-Conestoga MP Harold Albrecht attended the lunch and notes he tries to attend as many public events in his riding as possible, but there were a couple other reasons why it was important for him to attend.
“This was particularly close to me because of my longstanding commitment to care for vulnerable people, especially for new arrivals in Canada. My history on this goes back to 1987 when Betty and I had a refugee family live with us for a short time,” Albrecht said.
The former refugees from El Salvador have become some of his closest friends.
He says when you think about welcoming newcomers to Canada, especially as refugees, it’s critical they have either a family or group of families who are specifically committed to walking with them through those first months and through the adjustments.
“We had a fantastic meal prepared from one of the new arrivals from Turkey. But the better part of it is to see this church community raising funds for what they call a generosity fund, which actually helps other groups who are committed to sponsoring refugees. So they may have the time and the people that can commit to walking with the refugees, but they may not have enough cash flow.”
“It comes back to human compassion, what’s the right thing to do in this situation.”