Over the next month, the population of Altona will grow by eight as Build A Village prepares to introduce two new refugee families to the area.

"We have a widowed mom and her young son arriving next week from Eritrea," explains Ray Loewen, founder of the non-profit organization. "Then, a few weeks after we have a mom, dad and four children coming from Syria. The widow of mum has a brother living in town that's been here for a couple of years. The other family has a sister and her family that have been here also for a few years. They both have connections here."

The mother and her son have been refugees in Egypt, while the family of six were refugees in Lebanon.

Loewen talks about the process of resettling families in the Pembina Valley.

"Many of the families that are here in Altona and area still have family back either in their countries of origin, or, in these two cases, these families were both in refugee camps in different parts of the world. Of course, they want to help their families. They also want to get back together with their extended families. Families that are here ask us to support other family members that they have in various parts of the world. We put in the applications to Canada Immigration and these two families were the next ones that were selected to come."

Much of the work done by the non-profit revolves around trying to re-connect families said Loewen.

"This year, as an example, we have about a dozen applications to Canada Immigration for roughly 70 people altogether. All of those applications have family members that are currently in the Altona area. You know, when you listen to the stories of the refugee families, what they've gone through, so many hardships that they've had to endure, when you can help a family like that, number one, leave the hardships and come to a place that's safe. And then also to reunite them with family, yeah. It is very rewarding."

Loewen says housing is always one of the major concerns for the people they work with.

"But we've been so fortunate over the years. In the 20 years that we've been doing this, we've always been able to find a rental place. This time too. Two weeks ago, we had nothing, we had no idea where they were going to go. Then, all of a sudden, there were some options available. It's been a real blessing to see that come together. In my opinion it's totally a God thing. Everything we've needed for families as they've come over the years has been provided. It's been pretty incredible to see that."

As in the past, homes have been found both families - just in time.

"We were able to find an apartment for the mom and her son and also find a home for the bigger family. Now we just need to furnish them. We're looking for everything from beds to couches, chairs, basically everything that's needed to furnish a household. We're looking for gently used items or people who are willing to donate some finances to help us buy some new things. As an example, some of the new things that we would consider purchasing would be cutlery and things like that."

Loewen tips his hat to the community's involvement as well.

"Every time that we put the word out that we need something, whether it's volunteers, whether it's money, whether it's household items, housing or whatever, the community has been incredibly supportive. It's been amazing to see."

Donations can be made by phoning Loewen at 204-324-7786.


~With files from Candace Derksen~