The March 16th, 2017 meeting at Trinity United Church (in sanctuary)started at 9:55 am with President John Proctor welcoming the 40 members present. He made a special welcome to the guest speaker, Linda Tripp, as well as two prospective new members, Frank Aiello and Dana Allen.
John Proctor introduced Linda Tripp who is active at St. George’s Anglican Church, Guelph, where Linda heads up the Refugee Volunteer Group, sponsoring a Syrian Refugee family. Linda Joined World Vision Canada (WVC) in 1976 and as VP led International Programs for 22 years, becoming the first woman Vice President in the World Vision global partnership. In this capacity she represented WVC to the government, other aid organizations, and served on several coalitions and boards, including the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC). She chaired the Woman's Gender Policy for WV global partnership and championed the cause of women and the Girl Child. Linda started WVC’s Development Education program to increase donor and public awareness and understanding of poverty issues. She travelled extensively, witnessing the work first hand, attending international and UN conferences and speaking to various publics across Canada. She implemented World Vision's private sponsorship program for refugees and set up the Refugee Reception Centre in Toronto. She established and led the Advocacy Department that supports Child Rights, Economic Justice, and Peace Building. In 2003 she was named Vice President Public Affairs providing oversight to Advocacy and Education, Public Relations, and Church Relations. Linda retired from World Vision in January 2008 but continues to speak passionately to audiences about alleviating poverty and suffering, especially as it affects women and girls. Since retirement she has served on several Boards and currently continues on the Board of Tyndale University College and Seminary.
Linda Tripp speaking on Making Our Tables Longer – Not Our Fences Higher Linda began by saying she wanted to share her experiences with refugees but she also wanted to acknowledge John's wife, Heather, who is also a champion and incredible volunteer at St. George’s Anglican Church with assisting refugees.
Linda began speaking about people who have to vote with their feet as their only option to escape from war-torn countries. The title of her speech came from a friend who commented on what was happening to Canada’s south at this point in time. The friend said: “What we need to do is to make our tables longer, not our fences higher” and Linda felt this title was very appropriate. Similar to how Canada responded to the Vietnamese boat people in the seventies, Canada is again responding to the Syrian refugee fleeing from their country of Syria.
Linda referenced the story of Operation Seasweep which is the story of a freighter named “Seasweep” in 1978 that served to rescue Vietnamese refugees attempting to flee Communism in Vietnam in flimsy boats and water craft in the South China Sea. World Vision was responsible for using this freighter. It continued to provide assistance and relief efforts after the war and was outfitted with a medical clinic and a doctor, water fuel and food. The Seasweep was prepared to help any vessel in trouble or deemed unseaworthy. It did not get the support of other countries and was heartened by some countries because the Seasweep deposited rescued people on their shores. However, World Vision continued after other countries backed down and continued with their humanitarian work.
Linda had the privilege of serving on the Seasweep and it provided relief aid to many refugee camps in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indonesia and many camps on the small islands in the South China Sea. They were inoculating children in one of those camps when someone from Doctors Without Borders asked Linda for assistance in an emergency surgery. Although Linda had no medical background she was needed, so desperate were they for help. Most heartbreaking were the stories of young women who had been raped and believed they would never marry because they were now damaged. Families that were separated without knowing if they would ever be together again. Stories of children traumatized and alone.
One conversation Linda had was with a very intelligent professor from Saigon University who she met in a refugee camp and all he now owned were his shorts and sandals. She asked him what it meant to have lost everything and to vote with your feet on your future. What he told her was to remember this one thing: “Never take your freedom for granted because you can lost it.” Linda said that having travelled the world and seen a lot of it, she is eternally grateful for this amazing country of ours and she will not take her freedom for granted.
In the 1970’s Canada was gearing up for the arrival of the “boat people of Vietnam.” We have a history of welcoming new comers with one dark exception and that being how Canada had shut its doors to Jewish refugees from Europe before, during and after the Second World War. Canada under the Joe Clark government was not about to make this mistake again. Canada not only increased the number of boat people we would receive but the highest sponsorship program was born. This sponsorship agreement cut through the red tape to allow churches and groups of citizens to sponsor a family or an individual. World Vision Canada, the Mennonite Central Committee and the Christian Reform Church were the first three organizations to negotiate this private sponsorship program with the government. Through the eighties, nineties and beyond World Vision Canada alone approved thousands of churches across Canada to sponsor refugees.
In 1988 the federal government approached World Vision Canada about opening up a facility in Toronto to house government-sponsored refugees. Private sponsorship offers not just the basic necessities but also community and friendship to refugees … a place of belonging. World Vision had a reputation of being effective, reliable and accountable. In 1989 they opened The World Vision Refugee Centre on Christie Street in Toronto. That facility is now independent and is called The Christie Refugee Welcome Center. It continues to offer shelter, friendship and support to individuals and families from countries of war and torture.
Ms. Tripp felt that her church, St. George’s Anglican Church in Guelph, should enter into a private sponsorship for a Syrian family. She was confident that people would respond. She also felt that if they could identify a family themselves, it would speed up the process. She then contacted a former colleague through World Vision who after retiring from World Vision began a relief effort of providing supplies to churches Lebanon and Jordan. In Lebanon there are no large organized refugee camps and refugees are on their own to find a place to live and work. The country is overwhelmed where 25% of its population are refugees. Through this network of churches in Syria they learned of a refugee couple who had two-year-old triplets.
The parent’s names are Tony and Abir. They were living in the middle of one-and-a-half rooms in the middle of a cement factory. As the war had been closing in on them in 2012, they had escaped to Lebanon. In 2014 Abir found out she was pregnant with triplets. They were put in touch with UNICEF which monitored Abir’s pregnancy. Abir had a C-section at only six months and the babies were born at only one-and-three-quarter pounds each. The babies spent a month in the hospital before Tony and Abir could take them to their home in the cement factory. However, they had no family, no community to assist them and their future was bleak. Thus, the diocese recommended this family to Linda’s church which agreed unanimously to support them.
The long process began to fill out all the application forms required by Citizen and Immigration Canada. There were many pages of forms and documents. Other requirements included collection of furniture and household items, storage, housing, communication, transportation and of course, fund-raising.
Tony, Abir and the three children, Elia, Rita and Therese arrived on April 25th, 2016. There were groups organized for transportation, childcare for the triplets at all times, drivers for transportation, people to help with orientation. The First Baptist Church in Guelph assisted greatly and have been sponsoring refugee groups since this whole situation in Syria began. First Baptist Church was a haven for the Syrians which held socials, potluck dinners and pancake breakfasts. New friends were found and experiences exchanged.
They were able to secure a good apartment on the ground floor of a building close to almost every amenity they would need. Since the apartment would not be ready for several weeks, another family with three teenage children took Tony and Abir and the triplets into their home. Conversations took place using Google translation. When the day came for this family to move into their apartment volunteers came and everything was set up with food in the freezer and toys for the triplets.
The next weeks & months were a whirlwind. Whenever they had to go out it took two cars to transport the family because one car was needed with three car-seats to accommodate the triplets and a second car to transport one or both parents plus drivers
Both parents had serious dental requirements and although there was some basic dental coverage provided by the government and some dentists who were approached did pro bono work or reduced fees, several thousand dollars was still needed. The church anticipated this and through music concerts, golf tournaments, silent auctions and corporate and personal donations, the church raised well over the government requirement of $30,000 for a refugee family. On top of this there were other medical appointments, trips for blood work etcetera with follow-up appointments and this required more childcare and drivers and transportation.
Not only does it take a village to raise a child, it takes a whole community to welcome and settle a refugee family. Language is critical to establishing a life in the community and new country. Tony and Abir enrolled as soon as possible in ESL courses and the kids enrolled in daycare.
In September they found that Wellington Motors Chrysler Dealership had a program for newcomers who had a permanent residence and employment to get approved financing for a vehicle. Tony was working part time at Lebanese kitchen in Guelph but eventually got permanent full time employment at Danby Products Ltd. working in the warehouse. Jim Estelle, owner/operator of Danby, has personally contributed well over one million dollars to the cost of settlement for Syrian families in Guelph.
Tony and Abir, who are Christians, have joined and fully embraced St. George’s Anglican Church.
People who provided free services or at a reduce price to assist were: - Red Car Service - Several interpreters - Once Upon A Child - Salvation Army - Self Store Storage - Well Canada - Dentists: Dr. Nafeesa Sheikh Dentistry, Dr. Mae Abdalla, Dr. Osama Soliman, Dr. Benjamin Veige. This is not a complete list because there are all the personal donations of furniture and items. Guelph is a good city with generous people.
Linda said: “In conclusion … There is no conclusion, only a beginning. It seems the world is spinning out of control but I say to you, let us continue to make our tables longer not our fences higher.”
Linda Tripp’s presentation was followed by a question and answer discussion.
Julian Sale thanked Linda Tripp and presented her with a token of our appreciation.
Activities - Ken Dick – Anniversary Luncheon is on April 13th with Ed Herold presenting on “Female Tourists and Beachboys: Romance or Sex Tourism?”
- Coffee Groups – still going to the Airpark Café for one location and the Star Berry Coffee Shop on Paisley St. for the other location.
Reminder that fiscal year starts April 1/17 and membership fees of $80 are due.
Next Meeting on March 30th with Alastair Summerlee as guest speaker (Editorial Note: Alastair Summerlee had to cancel as a presenter for this date)