Grace United welcomes Syrian family

By Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

Heysam Bulgur and Grace United Church volunteer Bob Goodwin pose by the van Goodwin rented to transport the Bulgur family, recently arrived in Canada from Syria, to their St. Catharines apartment.

Heysam Bulgur and Grace United Church volunteer Bob Goodwin pose by the van Goodwin rented to transport the Bulgur family, recently arrived in Canada from Syria, to their St. Catharines apartment.


Grace United Church members have welcomed a Syrian family of refugees and helped settle them in their St. Catharines.

The four members of the family - parents with their adult daughter and 15-year-old son - were exhausted, confused and apprehensive, but once they had a look through their apartment and realized how well equipped it was, there were lots of grateful hugs and tears of joy, said Bob Goodwin, who had travelled with a small group to a Toronto hotel to pick them up and transport them to St. Catharines, which they will now call home.

“They seemed happy, and we felt fabulous. Whey they looked around their apartment and started to cry, it was pretty hard not to cry with them.”

The church members were told first to expect a Friday arrival, then Saturday, and finally, Goodwin says he received an email Saturday evening with a time and place to meet their family Monday morning.

The Bulgurs’ initial departure had been delayed because of bombing in Turkey, and when they finally flew out Saturday evening, they stopped again in Jordan and Montreal, changing planes each time, before arriving in Toronto at 10 a.m. Sunday to a four-hour government process, and then a bus ride to their hotel.

Goodwin says it seemed as if the entire plane-load of refugees was put up in the same Toronto hotel, to be met by their sponsors Monday.

“It seemed like they were dumped there with no understanding of what would come next, what would happen to them or where they were going.”

If the delays and the confusion was frustrating for the Grace volunteers, said Goodwin, “can you imagine what it must have been like for them?”

There were government representatives on hand and some red tape to get through Monday, but not a lot, he said, before they headed to St. Catharines.

Goodwin had rented a van in Niagara Falls that would transport the family, three volunteers from Grace - himself, his wife Faye and Claudia Gilchrist - and a translator from St. Catharines that had been arranged for them.

He said they took the Bulgurs to a “lovely apartment” at the corner of Scott and Vine Streets, which in recent weeks has been fully laid out and equipped with furniture, clothes and household items by volunteers, and has everything they could possibly need in the coming weeks.

“We were blessed with generosity, from the church and the community,” he said, mentioning Shaw employees especially who came out to help.

But as happy as the Syrians were with their apartment, they seemed not to understand the sponsoring process, he said - for one thing, they had no money and had no idea of where they would get it. He had money to give them, which seemed to surprise them, and since their son arrived with a cold and cough, they took them to the local drugstore to buy medication - their first experience with Canadian currency.

But at their apartment building, they met one of the refugee families who arrived a couple of months ago, so they will be able to talk about their situation and will receive tips from Syrians who are beginning to learn the ropes, he said.

“They will have someone from their part of the world, who already knows a little bit about what goes on here, such as the bus lines and the grocery stores.”

The next step, expected within a few days, was the Newcomer Information Centre at the YMCA in St. Catharines, which has multilingual staff who can refer them to the programs they will need.

The next stop after that will be the Multicultural Centre, which arranges the practical help they need such as English classes and school enrollment.

In the meantime, Goodwin says he plans to pick them up and drive them around the area so they get a sense of where they are.

He said the sponsors have been told to advise their Syrian refugees not to look for a job, but to concentrate on learning English.

“That’s the advice we’ve been given, that their job for the next period of time is to learn English.”

Meanwhile, although there will be difficult days ahead for them,

“they’re here, they’re safe, and I imagine they’ll be sleeping pretty soundly.”


Featured Businesses

Go to the Marketplace »