École St. Matthew School is the first Saskatoon school to take the 1000 Schools Challenge and privately sponsor a refugee family from Burundi, a small eastern African country with almost a quarter-million refugees fleeing civil war.
"With all the media attention around the refugee crisis in the fall and winter of 2015, our staff, students and parents started asking, 'What can we do to make a difference?'" said François Rivard, principal at St. Matthew. "Danielle Schock, one of our parents, heard about the 1000 Schools Challenge from a friend in Alberta, and there was immediate interest and support from our whole school community—staff, students and parents. It was pretty unanimous that this would be a great way to put our faith into action. Our division's goal is to reach out and transform the world, and Pope Francis challenges us to reach out to those most in need. What better way to do that?"
Schock co-chairs the school's refugee committee with Krista Schreiter, another parent. Shock explained that they learned of a French-speaking refugee family from Burundi—a good fit for the French immersion school. "Our focus is on refugees as a whole, not from a particular region. People at the 1000 Schools Challenge were thrilled we were bringing attention to other areas of conflict, not just Syria."
The committee—consisting of students, school staff, parents and members of the Catholic School Community Council—has spent the last several months planning in partnership with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
Christine Zyla from the diocese's migration office has worked closely with the school. "It's truly commendable that a school is taking the initiative to do this," said Zyla. "It's usually an entire parish that takes on the responsibility of sponsoring a family. The school community is helping real people from half way across the world. They are setting such a great example and giving the students such a great life-experience of what service truly is."
The school community officially launched their fundraising efforts at a school event on February 4. Farrukh Syeer from the Open Door Society gave presentations to help educate students about refugees and the role they will play as sponsors. He emphasized that refugees are people, just like the students and their teachers and parents, and need to be treated with respect.
Summer Baier, a Grade 8 Student at St. Matthew, said they have talent and air band shows planned to help raise the $30,000 needed to sponsor the family of six. They also have a virtual shopping list that allows people to see some of the costs associated with supporting the family.
"We expect it will take about 18 to 24 months of fundraising before we can welcome a family into our community," said Krista Schreiter, committee co-chair. "Our involvement won't stop there. The family will need support to get used to their new home for about a year after they arrive. We'll be here to support them every step of the way."
Want to help? Here's how:
- Send an etransfer to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Drop off a cash donation at the school
- Drop off or mail a cheque made out to St. Matthew Refugee Family Fund (1508 Arlington Ave, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, S7H 2Y2)
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