Guelph responds to Syrian refugee crisis

Guelph responds to Syrian refugee crisisimage

26 Oct 2015

GUELPH — Next weekend, a large band of people will trek the entire length of Guelph, symbolically carrying their worldly possessions in suitcases, backpacks and boxes.

The Sunday, Nov. 1, Syria to Guelph walk will show solidarity with the millions of Syrian refugees who have fled their wartorn homeland, while raising funds to settle a Syrian family in Guelph.

Fifty or more supporters will walk from one end of Guelph to the other, an 11-kilometre march in support of those who have been forced to walk vast distances and cross treacherous waters in search of safety.

Syria to Guelph is one of a number of groups that have emerged in the wake of the largest humanitarian crisis currently underway in the world. Separate grassroots campaigns are now being woven into a broader local network in response to the crisis.

“The vast majority of refugees in the world right now are Syrians,” said Kristen Bustamante, who is, along with Blair Cameron, part of a 16-member team that is organizing the Syria to Guelph campaign. “There are so many people that are currently displaced. We can do our part.”

A number of local groups are now working together to support one another, Bustamante said. The more groups there are, the more Syrian families can be helped. A network has been formed to share information and offer practical, broad-based community support once families arrive, she said.

Syria to Guelph has a $32,000 fundraising goal, the amount needed to support a family of four for one year. The fundraiser has already collected nearly $12,000 on its Indiegogo campaign site. An application to support a refugee family cannot be completed without having the funds in place.

“I think we have the capacity to exceed that goal in Guelph,” Cameron said. “We have just scratched the surface. The walk is our first foray into the broader community and so we are really hoping that can be a bit of a catalyst.”

There are three weeks remaining in the fundraising campaign. Visit and search “Syria to Guelph” if you want to contribute. As the campaign advances, the group will be seeking donations of household supplies and furniture to outfit an apartment.

The Nov. 1 event will also be a fundraiser. Entry is by donation.

“Our goal is to sponsor a Syrian refugee family who has been cast out from Syria due to the war and unrest going on there,” said Cameron. “The critical step right now is achieving the fundraising goal.”

During the city-approved walk, motorists will be encouraged to honk in support of Syrian refugees, and there will be buckets for pedestrians to place donations in.

Register via at [email protected], or at the event beginning at 12:30 p.m. at the South End Community Park, 25 Poppy Drive W. The walk goes from 1 to 3:30 p.m., ending at Riverside Park.

More than 11 million Syrians, more than half of the country’s population, have been forced from their homes, according to the humanitarian organization World Vision — 7.6 million displaced within the country, four million having fled as refugees to neighbouring countries. Increasingly, they are seeking asylum in Europe. More than 240,000 Syrians, including 12,000 children, have been killed in the country’s ongoing conflict.

As Syria to Guelph got underway, Cameron said, the group learned of other groups working to sponsor Syrian refugees in the city. He said regular events are happening in churches and community centres to disseminate information on how to sponsor families. Many of these events have been standing-room-only, he said.

“It’s an opportunity to really show the city of Guelph that there are a lot of people that support bringing refugees here, and to get people thinking that refugees are coming to Guelph,” Bustamante said, speaking of the walk. “Several refugee families are likely coming to Guelph in the next year or so, and this is a way for people to show that we are a refugee-friendly community.”

The commitment is not only a financial one, but it involves supporting the family emotionally, building community for them, and helping them secure the services they need, Cameron and Bustamante said.

“What Guelph does really well is we build community, we provide community,” Cameron said.

The Mennonite Central Committee is backing two similar refugee-support efforts in Guelph.

The Guelph Refugee Sponsorship Group, comprising 10 Guelph families, is working to raise $29,700 to bring a Syrian refugee family to Guelph, and is committed to fully supporting that family once it arrives. Visit to learn more and donate.

And the Downtown Guelph Refugee Family Sponsorship Group, a group of friends and neighbours in Guelph, is seeking $40,000 to support a family. Visit

Laura Keller is part of a committee at St. George’s Anglican Church that is also raising funds to sponsor a Syrian family. A concert marking the 30th anniversary of Rev. Canon Ralph Blackman’s ordination will be a fundraiser to that end, the first of a number of events to support a refugee family. Tickets to the Nov. 22 concert and celebration are $40. Tickets can be purchased at or from the church office at 99 Woolwich St.

“It’s been a long tradition in the Anglican Church, and most churches really, to take in refugees and help them,” Keller said. “This is an extension of something that has been a part of our belief system for a long time.”

She said Blackman didn’t want the celebration to be entirely centred on him, but instead to be of benefit to others. It was decided to turn the event into a fundraiser for Syrian refugees.