The Wilkinson-St. David’s Sponsorship group has had a very busy five months. On September 21, 2016, two from our group went to Pearson International Airport to welcome a young Karen family consisting of mom, dad and four children ages 9, 7, 5 and 1 to Canada. We brought them to their cozy, two-bedroom apartment in Toronto’s east end, where they now appear to feel quite at home.
Our responsibilities to these calm parents and their energetic kids have been steady and demanding. Our settlement team is working well together despite the demands of life from our own families, work and other commitments. E-mail keeps the lines of communication between us all humming and the level of commitment and care that so many have shown over these months is impressive.
Our focus in supporting this family has encompassed all aspects of daily life. Because mom and dad entered a refugee camp as children and lived there for 14 years, their experiences, knowledge, and skills were shaped by limited resources and formal education, lack of technology, inability to participate in paid work, inexperience in using and managing money, etc. Their resilience and calm, easy going nature, however, is also likely cultivated by their experiences in the camp. The family demonstrates a desire and eagerness to learn, adapt and take advantage of the opportunities their new life in Canada can afford them and we are happy and excited to help them along and learn from them.
Every month we ensure that this family has enough money in their account to pay their rent and other bills and then we assist them with online bill payments. We have helped them become familiar with their neighbourhood, including local shops, grocery stores, the community centre for recreational activities (where presently the two boys enjoy weekly swimming lessons and the oldest girl is participating in a weekly art class), library, schools, drug stores, parks, public transportation, bank, and family doctor.
We continue to assist the family in getting to many medical and dental appointments and have also ensured that each family member’s vision has been tested. There have been many specialist appointments and we continue to coordinate with medical staff to help ensure that the family’s health needs are addressed.
The boys attend JK and grade two classes and the older boy also attends ESL enrichment classes to help accelerate his acquisition of English. The oldest girl, attends a LEAP program which provides intensive ESL support to help bring her up to speed for her age and grade level more rapidly. The toddler has just been accepted for subsidized daycare and, while she currently attends a half day daycare program at her parents’ ESL school, she will soon move to a subsidized full day childcare spot.
On Monday, February 13, mom and dad graduated to full day ESL classes. They are both making strong efforts to acquire English. We have all noted that it seems they understand more than they speak but their confidence is increasing.
During the course of this past five months we had the joy of experiencing reunification of the family with mom’s mother and father and four siblings who on November 23, 2016, arrived in Canada under the same blended visa office referred refugee sponsorship program. These relatives are being sponsored by the Church of the Redeemer settlement group and it has been a really rewarding experience also getting to know the extended family and seeing how happy they are to be reunited as well as getting to know and coordinating with the settlement team from Church of the Redeemer.
In addition to the very practical tasks and activities that we have undertaken with the family we have enjoyed many social get-togethers, including Thanksgiving Dinner, trips to the beach, going for dim sum, the zoo, the Karen Church for Christmas Eve and Karen New Year celebrations, the Science Centre, and two potlucks hosted at St. David’s.
We are only five months in and we have already shared so many rewarding and fun experiences with the family and with one another. We look forward to continuing this work and supporting the family as they adapt to their new life as Canadian citizens and benefit from the opportunities that life in Canada and in Toronto can afford to them.