Really, their name says it all; Syria-Antigonish Families Embrace (SAFE).
The work of SAFE was recognized Dec. 8, by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, which presented the group with one of its Nova Scotia Human Rights Awards.
During a ceremony at Citadel High School in Halifax, three organizations as well as four individuals were recognized for their work after being, as noted in a press release addressing the ceremony, “nominated by their peers for work in the field of human rights, social justice and advocacy.”
The release also notes it’s a significant year for the commission – its 50th anniversary. They’re using the theme ‘Learning from our past, building for our future’ for the milestone year.
“We’ve come a long way since 1967, and we recognize that more progress is needed to ensure respect for human rights. This can only be realized in partnership with Nova Scotians,” Christine Hanson, commission director and CEO, said as part of the release.
“We are fortunate to live in a province where we not only have human rights protections in law, but we also have passionate and engaged people like the individuals and organizations we honoured today.”
SAFE member Sheila Sears accepted on behalf of the group and noted she was doing so “on behalf of more than a hundred volunteers and supporters.”
“It was quite an honour … very humbling,” Sears said to the Casket Dec. 12.
She provided a copy of the remarks she gave while accepting the award, which included a brief history and description of the group.
“SAFE formed in May of 2015 in response to the civil war in Syria and the human rights abuses perpetrated against the citizens of that country,” she said.
“Our hope was to re-settle one family in Antigonish. However, with the outpouring of support from individuals, organizations and businesses, and with the changes made by the federal government that opened Canada’s doors to Syrian refugees, SAFE has been able to welcome five families to Antigonish. We are expecting our sixth family in early 2018 and another, later, next year. We are, constantly, amazed and humbled by the generosity of our community. SAFE is also supported by St. F.X. for SAFE to raise awareness and funds at the university. We are also grateful for the work and cooperation of two other community groups helping to settle Syrian families in Antigonish; CARE and Tri-Heart.
“SAFE members come from all segments of our population, from all backgrounds, abilities, ages and circumstances. We are young and old, moms, dads, grandparents and kids; we are students, working, unwaged and retired, people who make things, people who sing. Antigonish born and Antigonishers by choice.”
In her conversation with the Casket, Sears noted how much SAFE has learned since starting its work in 2015.
“And we’ve made our share of mistakes, but we’ve certainly learned a lot about how to settle people and every family, of course, is different; as far as their strengths and areas where they need some help,” she said.
“It’s very rewarding … our families are so generous and they’re so grateful. And there is a sense of pride when you see them succeed.”
Her remarks during the award presentation expanded on those thoughts.
“Through our efforts we are learning how to be a more supportive and welcoming but we also have to act on other fronts,” she said. “To raise awareness about the plight of displaced people, push for better policy to support newcomers to Canada and dispel myths surrounding refugees.
“We are deeply touched by the courage of the Syrian families. It is impossible to imagine living through the terrors of war, leaving children, parents, siblings, friends and homes behind, and starting over in rural Nova Scotia. Our deepest wish is for the war to end and for peace to settle on Syria.”