Fourteen months later and so much has changed. The travel weary family we met at the airport on September 21, 2016, who appeared overwhelmed and cautious about their new surroundings, are now well established and engaged residents of East Toronto. It is such a thrill to visit them these days and engage in basic conversation with them about their day to day lives and to observe the successes they have attained as they settle into life here. But the road is long and they still face many challenges ahead. At least now, however, they have the ESL skills and confidence to tell us directly the areas in which they still need the most help and support.
While our contractual obligations under the Blended Visa Office Referred (BVOR) program (namely financial and settlement support to the family for 12 months) came and went this past September, the executive members of our group decided to continue to provide financial support to the family until the end of December 2017 in order to use up the funds raised for the purpose of sponsorship.
While our financial contributions will cease after December 2017, we will, of course, continue to help out when the complexities of navigating life in urban Toronto prompt requests. That said, our level of involvement these days is greatly reduced from the intensive involvement we had in the first 8 months or so of the relationship.
Now, the parents in this newcomer family navigate the city on public transit and are becoming more and more comfortable with using assistive technology like Google Maps, to keep them on course. Dad has a Facebook account and will make Facebook Messenger video calls to members of the settlement team when he needs help with a specific project. Dad is tentatively trying out e-mail and both parents were open to a demonstration on how to order their children’s school photos online just the other day. But even this, presumably simple process for most of us, continues to present unique challenges and obstacles for our family whose English, and exposure to and comfort with technology, is still fairly limited.
That said, both parents are now in Level Two English at their local LINC school and have worked hard to achieve this. Dad explained recently that he never learned to read in Karen making learning how to read in English even harder. He has expressed a strong desire to work. A call to the local employment agency representative crystalized challenges going forward. The representative stated that, as per their funding guidelines, employment services such as job finding workshops, are not open to individuals unless they have at least a Level 4 English.
Fortunately, the parents in our family have made good connections with other Karen Canadians at the Karen Church and may be able to find employment through networks there. Dad is hopeful he will be able to work at a window factory through the winter and do landscaping work in the summer. Mom intends on continuing with ESL study and she informed me that now, when the children return from school and after they pick up their littlest one from daycare, they all try to speak English with each other at home to speed up their progress.
The oldest daughter moved to a new school this year and continues her studies in the LEAP program for grade six students designed to accelerate kids in their ESL acquisition. The two boys are now in grades three and one and their mom tells me that all the kids love school and are happy to get up and go off each day. The youngest, two-year old daughter, is thriving at her daycare.
While many challenges lay ahead for the family, they have accomplished so much, we have accomplished so much with them, and their future is wide open. All the times that the settlement team juggled their time and commitments and responsibilities in order to help out this great family of six, has paid off in ways that are too difficult to describe in a blog update. The privilege of being able to help and support the family in this way and all that they have given us in return has been a really rewarding experience.
This may be the last post on this site as things formally wind-down in our Wilkinson-St. David Sponsorship support. Our sponsorship group would like to thank all those who made donations towards this endeavor and all those who gave their time and energy through fundraising, direct settlement support, attendance at meetings and general encouragement. You are all very much appreciated and we hope that you have gained from this experience as much as the family who has benefitted from your efforts.