The moment we have been preparing for has finally arrived.
Our sponsored refugee family arrived yesterday afternoon.
They are a Karen family (originally from Burma, where the government persecutes Karen villagers), coming to Canada after over 10 years spent in a refugee camp in Thailand.
The family consists of a young mother and father with four children: a nine-year-old daughter, two boys aged 5 and 7, and a baby girl (one-and-a-half years old).
Two of our volunteers and our Karen translator and resource person picked the family up at the airport yesterday (Wednesday, Sept. 21). Things went smoothly with documents, etc. — even better than expected.
In the meantime, other volunteers picked up two ladies from the Karen community in Toronto (our translator’s mom and another lady) who had offered to help out with dinner and brought them to the apartment to start cooking. There were a couple of minor glitches at the apartment when the volunteers (who were not among the volunteers that originally set up the apartment) couldn’t find the pots (cunningly hidden in the stove drawer – the only place we didn’t look – doh!) and the ladies couldn’t get the stove to work (turns out the breaker was turned off). But it all got sorted out in the end.
The family arrived and looked around their new apartment, the kids took quick baths and played with some of their new toys and jumped on the beds and put on some of their new clothes (the two boys, in particular, were in constant motion!). The mom at first looked simply blank with exhaustion and overstimulation from their long journey, but over the course of the evening she began to look happier and more relaxed.
One of our volunteers did her best to ensure that the mom and dad knew the basic things about the apartment that they needed to know to start out — that the apartment was their home and they should feel free to arrange things they way they want, the locations of fresh clothes and diapers, not to let children put fingers or objects in electrical outlets, how to lock and unlock the doors, and so on — while we had someone there to help with translation.
Then the delicious meal the ladies had made was ready and everyone ate. Our translator’s father led a brief prayer circle after dinner (all in the Karen language): a hymn, a psalm reading, a prayer, and the sung doxology (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” – in Karen, of course, but Trish recognized it because it was the same tune that we sometimes sing at St. Davids). Before saying good night, we reviewed the locking of the apartment doors again, and confirmed the time of our next visit with the family. And we finally left them to settle down for the rest and privacy that I’m sure they were longing for.
It was an exciting and momentous evening — such a privilege to meet this lovely family and be a small part of their new beginning.
No doubt there will be some challenges ahead, but it felt like a very positive start!