After 36 hours of travel on the road and through the air, with four young children in tow, the family we are sponsoring arrived in Toronto from a refugee camp in Thailand, weary, but safe, at about 6pm on Wednesday, September 21, 2016.
This resilient family, whom we have anticipated meeting for almost a full year since our sponsorship group was first conceived, lived in their Thai refugee camp for about 10 years. All of their four children, between the ages of 9 and 1-and-a-half-years old, were born there.
Stories I have heard about the persecution of the Karen people by the Burmese army are unfathomable compared to my privileged Canadian experience. It was such an honour to be at the airport with Deb Shub and Karen Canadians Mie Tha Law and his father Ka Law Law to greet them and welcome them to their new home in Canada. The parents were visibly worn out, but the children, especially the two boys, were full of energy as they broke into sprints and giggles on our way from airport Arrivals to parking.
When we finally arrived at their home, at about 7:30pm, two very gracious women from the Karen Canadian community in Toronto cooked up a delicious, traditional Karen meal which we all enjoyed very much. The family was obviously thrilled as they sat down and filled their tummies at their new, donated, dining table.
But before eating, while the food was cooking, the three oldest children (9, 7 and 5) enthusiastically tested out their new toys, colouring materials, and the shower! With the bathroom door wide open, they eagerly stripped down, jumping in and out of the shower at different times, water flying in all directions, to wash up with any available bottle of soap they could get their hands on. They all then got dressed rather efficiently for their young ages, I thought, into the fresh pjs we had laid out for them with the exception of the oldest boy who adorably opted instead to wear to bed corduroy pants that he found in one of the drawers. I later learned that the boy loves them because pants are so scarce in the refugee camp.
Prior to departing, Ka Law Law said a blessing for the family, as they all share the same Baptist faith. Admittedly, during this prayer, I stole a moment to look around the room at the faces of the children and their parents and felt overwhelmed and humbled as I observed them with eyes closed and hands clasped praying for what I thought must be their wish to have good fortune in their new country and protection for those they have left behind (at least this is what I imagined as I do not speak Karen S’gaw!)
We left around 9:30pm and the following day met with the family again to assist them in signing their lease and obtaining OHIP numbers. On Friday, we were able to assist mom in seeking medical attention and treatment for the baby’s ear infection with their own OHIP and Interim Federal Health coverage. We live in a great country!!!
Every day for the next several weeks we will be seeing the family at least once, if not twice per day, to help them learn about their new surroundings, play at the park, enroll for English classes, register the children for school, set-up a bank account and apply for a Welcome Policy at the community centre so they have the opportunity to learn how to swim, if they want to. My gut instinct, is that they are all going to learn how to swim!