Marian and Susan’s* Story
By Alison Witt
Project: Open Homes Hamilton
Eucharist Church, Hamilton
Open Homes Hamilton exists to welcome newly arrived refugee claimants into communities of belonging. We do this by providing short-term, home-based housing for refugee claimants and surrounding them with a circle of support as they navigate all the complex systems necessary to settle well in Canada. Our vision is to mobilize churches to become places of radical hospitality so that refugee claimants can thrive in the Hamilton community.
Eucharist Church has been at the centre of getting Open Homes Hamilton off the ground. Several Eucharist families volunteer to be hosts and invite refugee claimants to live with them in their homes for a few months. Others in our congregation volunteer to come alongside a newcomer as companions and provide settlement support and friendship. They all work together to form a circle of welcome that lets each refugee guest know that they are valued and that they are not alone.
Marian and her 18-year-old daughter Susan fled Nigeria because it was no longer safe for them to stay there. Their journey led them to Canada where they asked for protection as refugees. When they arrived in Hamilton, they didn’t know a single person. They showed up at the only family shelter in our city but were turned away since at 18 years Susan was considered an adult, rendering them ineligible to stay there. Thankfully, we were able to offer them a room in the home of one of the Eucharist Church host families. God seems to always match each new guest with just the right host family. Susan has lots of special needs since she was born with spina bifida. Their long and complicated journey seeking refuge, as well as their physical challenges, have led to gaps in Susan’s schooling. Matt, the father of their host family, works as a social worker for the public school board. God knew he would be the perfect person to coach Marian and Susan on how to access the various resources and supports available to them in our community.
This week Susan turned 19. We are still the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and, like the rest of us, Susan has been struggling with being isolated. So, her welcome circle decided to surprise her with a lawn party! They blew up balloons, made some signs, brought some KFC chicken (her favourite!), donned their face masks and blessed her with a surprise physically-distanced birthday celebration! It was just one more way to remind Marian and Susan that they are not alone—one more way that churches in Hamilton are supporting refugees in their quest to create a community of belonging.
* names have been changed to protect identity