January 13 was a busy and exciting day for the OCRA Team as we held another community meeting, and welcomed another family to the nation’s capital.

The Centretown United Church on Bank Street opened their doors to over two hundred OCRA members, as new and experienced volunteers came together to listen to perspectives on the refugee crisis from several passionate speakers. First on the agenda was Paul Dewar, Honourary chair of OCRA, and former MP for Ottawa Centre. Paul recalled days of his childhood, when their family phone would ring with both supporters and detractors calling about challenges around the integration and acceptance of 4000 Vietnamese “boat people” to Ottawa. His mother was mayor of Ottawa at the time, leading the welcome. We have witnessed how these arrivals have done well in Ottawa — boosting the local economy and creating jobs.  Paul reflected on how welcoming new arrivals that have seen and survived hardship, results in strengthening the resilience of who we are as a community, city, country, Canadian people.

Next Luna Noofoori, member of the first family that OCRA has sponsored spoke. She described the moment her mother made the decision for the family to leave war-torn Syria. A powerful bomb had exploded at the stop of the bus that her daughter was taking. Her mother did not know if her daughter was injured, dead or alive. The journey took several years, she has now led her two daughters to safety in Canada.

The third speaker was author and human rights activist Monia Mazigh. Monia told us more about Syria and its history. She noted that many Canadians are proud of our multi-culturalism. She drew a brilliant portrait of Syria. Ancient cities of Palmyra and Damascus holding amazing cultural heritage, in a country saw peaceful coexistence of a great mix of multi-cultural and multi-ethnic population and an array of religions including Jewish, Christian, Suni, Shia and other minority Islamic faiths.  Syria also has a quite recent history as a stable and tolerant country that was welcoming and treating refugees from the region with dignity. She made us feel grief for the destruction and violence now taking place in Syria and appreciation for the prosperity and stability that allows us to welcome Syrian and other refugees at their time of need.

After these poignant speakers the meeting separated into OCRA newcomers – who were briefed on the status of our operations, while members of existing Family Support Groups (FSG) moved to the basement to discuss next steps and lessons learned within our various operational themes (hosting, search for permanent housing, health, budgets,  etc).

A thank you to all of those that attended … Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, and bookmark our website so you don’t miss a thing!

Next up … a quick update on the arrival of our second family! Stay tuned!