Members of the École St. Matthew School refugee committee joined members of the recently arrived family from Burundi that the Catholic school is sponsoring to welcome a family member at Saskatoon airport Sept. 14. (Photo by Kiply Yaworski)
SASKATOON — The two-year journey to bring a refugee family from Burundi to Saskatoon concluded Sept. 14 when a late evening flight landed and a family of seven was reunited.
Six members of the family — a husband and wife and their four children — arrived the week before, but there was not enough space on the flight out of Rwanda, so one family member — an adult sister — was left behind until a later flight could be arranged.
The joyful reunion at the Saskatoon airport included the newly arrived family members, and St. Matthew school representatives, parents and students, carrying welcome banners, home-made signs and Canadian flags. Speaking in French, the parents of the four young children expressed thanks to God for their safe arrival in Canada.
The family is among almost a quarter-million refugees who have fled the small eastern African country’s years-long civil war.
In partnership with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, members of the St. Matthew school community spent several months planning before launching a fundraising campaign on Feb. 4, 2016. St. Matthew was the first Saskatoon school to take the 1000 Schools Challenge to privately sponsor a refugee family.
A refugee sponsorship committee, co-chaired by local parents Krista Schreiter and Danielle Schock, included St. Matthew students, staff, parents and members of the Catholic School Community Council.
“Support from the whole community has been amazing, and it’s been a great experience for our students and families to see that we can make a real difference in the lives of others,” said Schreiter.
“At the beginning, it seemed like a long journey. We wanted to get the family here quickly and welcome them into our community. But the amount of work and fundraising activities has made the time go so fast.”
Initiatives to raise the estimated $30,000 to sponsor the family included a bake sale, talent show, fun night and a cabaret featuring Saskatoon’s The Barrelmen. Many members of the school community also made charitable donations. All the household items and furniture needed by the newly arrived family were also donated.
“We are all excited to finally see and welcome the family to our community,” said Schock. “We were a bit nervous when we learned the whole family wouldn’t be coming at once. But they’re here and safe; that’s what’s important.
“There’s lots of work to make sure they get settled into their new home. We’re in this for the long haul to support the family in whatever ways they need — including getting the children to school and helping the parents find work.”
The refugee sponsorship was initiated after a parent at École St. Matthew heard about the 1000 Schools Challenge issued by a school in Toronto, encouraging schools to sponsor refugees.
School representatives approached the Office of Migration at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon with the idea. As a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH), the diocese has signed an agreement with the federal government that permits it to work with parishes and other groups in the community to sponsor refugees privately.
Diocesan Migration Office co-ordinator Christine Zyla was enthusiastic about the application and the careful planning done by the school committee. “This is what Catholic education is about, this is faith in action, this is everything that we are called to,” she said.