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Our churches move quickly to help refugees

Vatche & Sonia Boyadjian

Vatche & Sonia Boyadjian. Photo: Allan Williams

In my column in Leaside Life’s May issue, the topic was local support for bringing refugees into Canada. Since the photo of the body of Alan Kurdi on a beach in Turkey highlighted the plight of the Syrian refugees, it seemed a good idea to check in with this topic again.

Leaside’s churches are all actively engaged in determining how to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis. St. Augustine’s Anglican in North Leaside is the furthest along in their plans. They’re working with St. Matthew’s Anglican in Riverdale which had started a refugee support committee earlier in the year, so was already well into the process through AURA, the Anglican United Refugee Alliance. In fact, they have just learned who their family is: a mother, father and three-year-old arriving in three to five months’ time.

Gina Davidson, of Bessborough Dr., a parishioner at St. Augustine’s, is the outreach coordinator for the project. She now has a basement and garage full of items for the family, with more squirreled away at the church. And she didn’t have to go begging – useful items just arrived. One member of the parish has offered to build a custom dining room table for the family, once they know the size of the apartment. Extra furniture and items that are not needed will be passed on to others in need.

Ongoing fundraising includes regular coffee house music nights, known as The Groove Room, with musicians from the community. The next one is at the church on Friday, Nov. 13 starting at 7 p.m. Cost is $5 for dessert and coffee.

At Leaside United Church Bob and Lis Lister, the knowledgeable and energetic couple who co-chair the Refugee Resettlement Committee, arranged an evening workshop in October to provide information on process and supports to people and groups who might be considering sponsorship. The church will be making a decision soon about sponsoring a family through AURA.

St. Anselm Catholic School is well-started on their refugee sponsorship project. They are planning to support one or more families from Syria who belong to persecuted minorities and are following the template set up for refugee support by the Archdiocese of Toronto, and have committee chairs set up for the various facets of what is needed for support.

Leaside Presbyterian, Northlea United and St. Cuthbert’s are still in the inquiry phase. All agree that assisting refugees is something they are compelled to do by dint of being Christians.

For Leasiders who aren’t connected to these churches, it is also possible to get involved. Financial contributions to the overhead refugee organizations, or to the churches themselves, earmarked for refugee support, are eligible for income tax receipts for charitable donations.

As well, any practical help you might be able to offer would be gratefully received.

Some Leaside connections with refugees

One valuable community asset, which St. Augustine’s has already tapped into, is the Boyadjian family, Vatche and Sonia, who own Vaso Dry Cleaning and Alterations on McRae Dr. beside the fire hall. Vatche has been in Canada since 1979 when he arrived from Lebanon via Greece and was fortunate enough to be sponsored by the son of a man who was friends with his father. His grandfather had moved to Lebanon from Syria. Over the years, Vatche has sponsored his whole family, including his mother, father, brother and two sisters and their families, as well as an aunt and uncle.

Sonia Boyadjian emigrated from Syria to Canada. The family background of both Vatche and Sonia is Armenian. She was in Syria this past summer and had an opportunity to meet the latest family they are sponsoring who are not related to them. With luck, this family will arrive by Christmas.

Both Vatche and Sonia are Canadian citizens. Vatche speaks Armenian, Arabic, Turkish and English and would be happy to assist any local sponsors looking for language help (most Syrians speak Arabic).

Rouhlat Ali had a busy first week of October. On Oct. 2 she and other members of her family opened Artistic Hair Lounge at 1519 Bayview. On Oct. 6 she passed her citizenship test with flying colours, and on Oct. 7 her parents arrived in Canada from Syria via Turkey.

Five family members have been involved in getting the business opened. Rouhlat Ali, her sister Chirim and her brother’s wife are all hairstylists. Her brother Jimmy and two sisters did all the renovations to open up the space. The two sisters are studying, one at university in psychology and the youngest at the Ontario Police College. As a family of Kurds living in Syria they were a persecuted minority.