Committee comes together for new refugee effort

Kevin Alkenbrack and Kitwana Shiara, holding his son Shiara. (Seth DuChene photo)

About five years ago, St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church and others in the community rallied to sponsor a group of eight Congolese refugees and to help them start new lives in Canada. Some of those same people are now trying to repeat the feat.

A new committee is being formed in an effort to support three female Congolese refugees through a private refugee sponsorship program of the Anglican Diocese of Ontario. The trio are extended family of the Kashiras, who came to Canada as part of that first refugee-sponsorship effort.

The challenge, says committee member Kevin Alkenbrack, will be reigniting local support for this latest campaign. To that end, the committee is holding a fundraising dinner and silent auction at the Strathcona Paper Centre on Oct. 27. “We will be providing entertainment and having a silent auction and having a beautiful meal,” Alkenbrack says.

All funds raised through the event will go toward the work of the committee.

Like the Kashiras who were the subject of the last refugee sponsorship effort, the three refugees have already left their homeland of Congo to live, temporarily, in Kampala, Uganda. According to Kitwana Shiara, who too left Congo for Uganda before coming to Canada with the Kashiras, there is little for those refugees in Uganda.

The Kashiras fled Goma, Congo, due to ongoing strife in that country. “There’s a war there, (it’s been going on) for almost 20 years now. The country is in trouble, and there’s no peace,” Shiara said.

Though relatively safe from violence in Uganda, remaining there was not an option either, he said. “When I was in Uganda, I couldn’t work. I couldn’t do anything for myself. I would just stay home, go around with friends. I couldn’t go to school. Over there, there are no jobs,” Shiara said.

Once he arrived in Canada, he had a job within a month. Since then, Shiara has sponsored the relocation of his wife, Naomi, from Congo, and together the couple is raising their 19-month-old son, Graig, who was born in Canada.

He said the support of the refugee committee was essential for his family’s survival and current prosperity. “It’s nice, we like it here,” he said. “There is peace and there is work. It was a struggle at first. We get support from the church for one year, and after that, everyone has to go and start his own life. It was tough at the beginning, but things starting coming together.”

Alkenbrack says the rest of the members of the Kashira family — some of whom have relocated to Ottawa, Montreal and Kingston — have enjoyed similar successes.

Under the private sponsorship program, the committee is required to provide all required support for the refugees for a one-year period as they get settled in their new country. That includes food, clothing, housing, transportation, health care and educational and language supports.

Alkenbrack says accommodation in Napanee and Kingston has been arranged, but the rest of the framework needs to be established. As such, he says more committee members are welcome come on board.

The Oct. 27 fundraiser starts at 6 p.m. Tickets — $25 each or $40 per couple — are on sale (cash only) at Gray’s IDA and The Waterfront Pub and Terrace.

Those interested in assisting on the committee can contact Alkenbrack at the Morningstar Mission at 613-354-6355.

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