of donated household items and supplies were sorted and
shared among the five homes so that each was well-stocked
with warm clothing, nutritious food, and comfortable furniture. Five teams were set up so that each family would
have consistent and accountable companionship and support
within its sponsoring community.
With only three days’ notice, the first families arrived from
their Ethiopian refugee camps in February, having been told
simply that they were “going to Canada and someone named
Linda would take care of them.” Linda Erskine of Little
Current, one of the project’s coordinators, was that someone.
She and a group of excited volunteers met the families at the
“One of the little ones ran from the plane, across the
tarmac, and into the airport wearing only a cotton sundress
and flip-flops,” says Linda. She was quickly bundled in the
warm clothing brought for her, and proudly wore Linda’s fur
hat during the three-hour bus ride from the airport to her
new home on Manitoulin.
Since their arrival, four families, which span three generations, have developed close ties with their sponsors and one
another. Volunteers shuttle children and youth to organized
sports. English classes are offered almost daily. We mark
milestones, like birthdays with group celebrations.
“It has been an incredibly smooth transition,” says Linda,
noting that the cooperation and support among the sponsoring teams has been stellar.
But the project has not been without its challenges. Local
schools were not as well prepared as they might have been
to receive non-English-speaking children. Unexpected, serious health issues have been distressing for families and
support teams. One family anxiously awaits the arrival of a
teen daughter whose paperwork was not processed with her
family. She remains in Ethiopia.
The fifth family’s arrival in Canada has been delayed by
the birth of a baby just two days before the scheduled depar-
ture from an Ethiopian camp. The infant’s medical clearance
will take three to six months to secure. If it is prolonged, the
family’s initial approval may exceed its time limit. “If that
happens,” says Mary Alice Lewis of Mindemoya, “then we’re
back to square one.”
Hiccups aside, Linda calls the project a delight, one that
she would happily repeat. Her faith in Manitoulin’s culture
of openness and hospitality has been affirmed, and the lives
of islanders and their new Eritrean neighbours have been
The Rev. Janice Frame is in ministry in the Western Mani-
toulin Pastoral Charge, one of five predominantly rural
United Church pastoral charges on Manitoulin Island. Each
pastoral charge—Little Current-Sheguiandah, Manitowan-
ing-Tehkummah, Lyons Memorial, Mindemoya, and Western
Manitoulin—is partnering with ecumenical neighbours in
the refugee sponsorship program. firstname.lastname@example.org
Refugee sponsorship volunteers from Manitoulin Island wait at the Sudbury Airport for families to arrive from Eritrea.