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“Little village with big heart” prepares to welcome Syrian refugees

SUMMERLAND — With the federal government promising to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February, local groups in the south Okanagan are preparing to lend a helping hand.

Summerland councillor Doug Holmes has organized a public meeting to learn what ideas and concerns people have about welcoming refugees to the town.

“We’re a giving community; we’re a giving country. These are people in a desperate need who have gone through a terrible situation, let’s just see what we can do to help,” says Holmes.

Holmes was saddened by the this month’s Paris attacks, but he was most disappointed by the online reaction following the carnage.

“I was disturbed by the reaction of closing our borders. Well, I think now is the time more than ever to open our borders.”

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He believes one of the largest hurdles Okanagan communities must overcome is finding affordable housing for the refugees.

This is one piece of the puzzle that a group in Naramata has already solved.

The Naramata Centre closed earlier this year and has been sitting empty ever since. Its board of directors has recently approved to house four Syrian families for up to six months.

“We are a little village with a big heart,” says Laura Gray, a member of the Naramata Community Syrian Refugee Support Initiative.

“When you think of ‘refugee’ you think of housing, a safe place to stay. We’re trying to put all the other pieces together.”

The group will rely on the resources and programs offered at South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services to help the refugees settle into the area.

“The goal of any program assisting refugees would be to help them become self-sustaining as soon as possible,” says Gray.

The information session in Summerland is taking place at the public library on Wednesday, December 2 at 7 p.m., while the meeting in Naramata is at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, December 8 at the Naramata Centre Chapel.