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Project Hope already making a difference for refugees

By Jean Ko Din
The Catholic Register

11/04/2015

TORONTO (CCN) — More than 105 refugee families fleeing unrest in the Middle East will be arriving in Canada in the next three to four months through the efforts of Project Hope.
On Sept. 8, Cardinal Thomas Collins announced the launch of Project Hope, a campaign aiming to raise $3 million to support the Office of Refugees in the Archdiocese of Toronto’s work in resettling 100 refugee families within the Greater Toronto Area.

Martin Mark, director of ORAT, just returned from a two-week trip to Israel, Palestine and Jordan. He and a group of nine volunteers worked with refugee communities to meet and interview potential refugees with the greatest need. Mark and his team went through about 250 case files from Iraqi, Syrian, Sudanese and Somali refugee families. More than 105 of those case files are now being matched with sponsors from across the country and in the United States.

“Under Project Hope, we want to focus on refugees with no connections, no friends, relatives in Canada,” he said. “When you bring here one person and once the person is settled, then he or she can resettle remaining family members and friends . . . so that a few years later, 20 people benefit from the resettlement process.”

With the 100-day campaign reaching its halfway point on Oct. 28, Neil MacCarthy, the archdiocese’s communications director, said he is confident the campaign will reach its $3 million goal by the Dec. 17 deadline.

“We’ve got a million (dollars) that’s allocated and that’s come in already, but there’s a lot more that we’re aware of that’s out there,” said MacCarthy.

“Some parishes have had collections. Some schools are doing Toonie Thursdays and Dress Down days . . . and they’re donating funds to Project Hope for that.”

MacCarthy said the campaign has attracted support from many different groups, including private businesses and corporations. ORAT and the archdiocese are working with refugee sponsorship committees from across Canada and the United States.

“It’s exciting. It’s faith in action if I’ve ever seen it,” said MacCarthy.

Mark said since the launch of Project Hope, the response has been overwhelming. As the campaign continues to grow, he hopes to do even more.

“When I left the press conference for Project Hope, I thought I can relax a little bit . . . but we realized that it’s been overwhelming since then,” said Mark. “Permanently and continuously, phone calls and emails . . . from all over Canada and the U.S. People are calling and asking what can we do, how can we be a part of it?”

ORAT is one of two Canadian organizations that make regular trips to refugee communities overseas. Mark said that ORAT often works with World University Service of Canada (WUSC) to visit refugee communities to bring young refugees to study in Canadian post-secondary institutions. But in a general mandate, ORAT is the only organization working with families on the ground.

“Canada is the only country where we have this civic resettlement program,” said Mark. “This is the only place in the world where, as a Canadian, you can go to the refugee community . . . and you can decide that I put my money where my mouth is and I make the commitment. This is literally saving lives and making history in these families’ lives.”

Because of this, many refugee sponsorship programs across the country rely on the refugee profiles list that ORAT provides. Just this year, the office has identified and resettled about 900 refugee families.

Mark said ORAT is looking to build capacity in the long-term. To do so, the office is looking to build refugee request files for people who would otherwise have no resources to connect with refugee sponsorship programs in Canada.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “These are people who are traumatized. They faced death. They lost family members. All of them have a huge baggage, psychologically . . . so we need to make sure that anybody working with Project Hope are serious and that they are committed.”

Beyond financial support, MacCarthy said that Project Hope is about recruiting volunteers who will sponsor these families. Now that ORAT has the case files, parishes, schools and other sponsorship groups are being matched with refugee families almost immediately.

Once the family profiles are matched with the sponsors, ORAT will work with the sponsors and with Citizenship and Immigration Canada to bring the families to Canada within the next few months.

In November, Mark will be taking a group of volunteers for another trip to meet refugee communities in West Africa.

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